With temperatures touching a blistering 36C in Perpignan, it was Catalans Dragons who kept their cool with a dominant 36-8 win over Hull FC. Birthday boy Samisoni Langi, 29 today, got on the scoresheet in the second half and marked his return from injury with a second half try, as Catalans strengthened their Grand Final ambitions and moved into second place.
In these temperatures, against this opponent, with these fans, it's a daunting place to visit and Hull wilted under the sustained pressure. The two teams came into this one with almost identical attacking records but Hull had conceded ten more tries than the Dragons and this latest defeat means that they haven’t beaten a top four side away from home in the last 18 months.
Despite sitting 4th and 5th in the Super League table, there was a gaping chasm between these two sides on the field. Steve McNamara’s side bounced back from the defeat at Huddersfield in spectacular style, and now harbour genuine ambitions of returning to the Grand Final for the second successive year.
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Last year they had their hearts broken by St Helens, but this time around, they are desperate to right those wrongs. They had the better of the opening spell and Mike McMeeken grabbed the opening try on the ten minute mark. After returning against Huddersfield following a broken arm, McMeekan crossed for his first try of the season after two quick passes left the Hull FC defence flat-footed. His run on the angle was perfectly timed and he scythed through to open the scoring for the hosts.
Catalans Dragons all-time top try scorer Fouad Yaha went in for the second try of the game after great hands from his teammates. Mitchell Pearce kept the ball alive and they shuffled it across to the winger who had a simple finish in the corner after an entertaining move as he bagged his tenth try of the season.
Matt Whitley's new year two-year deal, signed this week, was celebrated with an impressive display, and it will put smiles on the faces of those fans in this part of the world that will remain in Perpignan until 2024.
Mickael Goudemand picked up the ball after a wonderful offload and drove straight through the heart of the Hull defence. Two tries in three minutes for the French side took the game away from the visitors and Goudemand is the perfect example of a player who can take the Catalans to success. If they have ambitions of winning the Grand Final this year, they need their local French players to produce and Goudemand is the prime example of that at 26 years of age.
Hull FC’s lack of consistency has cost them this term. In spells they look like a top four team, in other spells they look like a bottom four team - sometimes in the space of the same 80 minutes. One thing is for sure they are not quite the same team without star full-back Jake Connor - the league's best playmaker this term with 24 try assists to his name. Now absence through injury is becoming more and more apparent as Brett Hodgson’s team lacked incision in the attacking third.
Having said that, there was a bright moment for the Black and Whites in the second half as five minutes in, Josh Griffin hit 500 points in Super League with a superb individual try. He found himself on the left, span the Catalans defender and crossed to get Hull on the scoresheet. 500 points across four clubs is an outstanding achievement for the 32-year-old.
Then it was time for the birthday boy to take centre stage. After missing eight games, Langi crossed after great work from Mitchell Pearce, who played another key pass and his importance in this side continues to grow.
Darnell McIntosh reduced the arrears with eight minutes to play but Pearce hit back instantly for the hosts, before Tyrone May put the finishing touch to a wonderful running move, as they quashed any hopes of a late comeback. Two tries in a minute in these conditions showed the stamina of these Catalans stars, who have endurance and quality to potentially make the Grand Final once again.
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