Four years ago, Catalans Dragons were on the brink of relegation. Now they are just days away from the Super League Grand Final, where they will face Betfred Challenge Cup winners St Helens. Steve McNamara’s side are the first French team ever to reach the Grand Final, and while they start as underdogs, they will head to Old Trafford confident of causing an upset.
Catalans Dragons actually beat St Helens 31-30 via an extra time golden point during Magic Weekend, to clinch the League Leaders’ Shield. The sides split their league meetings during the regular season, winning one each. Catalans triumphed 20-16 at Stade Gilbert Brutus, while Saints were victorious 34-12 at the Totally Wicked Stadium.
St Helens are of course a fixture of Grand Finals, having competed in the rugby league showpiece on twelve occasions. However, Super League Coach Of The Year Steve McNamara is adamant his team knows exactly what is ahead of them, despite this being their first Grand Final. After their play-off semi-finals win over Hull Kingston Rovers he said, “There was no mass celebration at the end of the game here at the Brutus. The players understand that if we are going to do something historic, we have to do it next week in Manchester.”
As The Dragons prepare to close the book on a wonderful season, James Maloney is looking to write the final chapter in the story of his career. The Australian half-back has announced his intention to retire from professional rugby league at the age of 35. Maloney kicked a drop goal during Catalans spectacular comeback victory on Magic Weekend, and kicked four goals during the win over Hull KR in the play-off semi finals. After the Grand Final, Maloney will join semi-professional Lezignan in the French Elite Championship, where he will be reunited with former Dragons teammate Sam Moa.
Catalans Dragons as a team are newcomers at this level, but they are bolstered by a number of players who know what it takes to win a Grand Final. Gil Dudson, Michael McIlorum, Tom Davies and the Tomkins brothers, Sam and Joel, have all won the trophy with Wigan Warriors. This sort of experience is invaluable, and backed by a coach who has seen it all during a career that has also seen him take charge of England, Catalans Dragons look like very live underdogs indeed. St Helens are a Super League dynasty, but their French opponents will be worthy challengers at Old Trafford on Saturday evening.