Catalans Dragons are tasting sweet revenge tonight after beating St Helens in a repeat of last year’s Grand Final. The French side went behind to two early tries, but battled back brilliantly to win 20-18 in Perpignan.
A Saints procession looked like it might be on the cards when the champions took an early lead. Some smooth play from James Roby led to Jack Weslby finding Sione Mata'utia. The Australian crossed the line, though Tommy Makinson couldn’t convert.
Makinson was in the thick of it as St Helens doubled their lead. A slick exchange with Jonny Lomax gave the winger space to power over the line wide on the right. It did give him an awkward task from the conversion, as he went 0-2.
Ben Davies thought he’d done enough after grasping a Roby grubber, but the video official deemed that Catalans’ Samisoni Langi had grounded the ball. This let-off would ultimately prove to be the turning point of the first half.
A brilliant, winding Sam Tomkins run gave Josh Drinkwater the opportunity to open up the Saints defence with a deep kick. Lomax powered through Mathieu Laguerre with a massive tackle but it was not enough to stop the Dragons centre from scoring. Tomkins’ conversion was very wide, but Catalans were on the board.
Drinkwater benefitted from a classy kick from Fouad Yaha that out-foxed the Saints defence. Drinkwater was almost unchallenged as he touched the ball down to draw level. An easy conversion from Tomkins turned the half on its head, with Catalans going in at the break with a hard-fought 10-8 lead.
Yaha gave Welsby too much space just after half time, allowing Ben Davies to go over and restore the lead. It was a strong statement, though the decision to let Davies replace Makinson on kicking duties did not bear fruit.
The home side were in no mood to lay down though. Langi crossed over after some lightning-speed passing exchanges with Drinkwater. A brilliantly-taken try, with two more points arriving courtesy of Tomkins.
Dean Whare kept the party mood alive inside Stade Gilbert Brutus. Mitchell Pearce drew the Saints defence out of position before slipping the pass into the break, and Whare was only too happy to finish the job. Tomkins couldn’t convert, but Catalans still looked good value for an eight-point lead.
Just moments later, Welsby raced over at the other end. The try was given on the field, but the video officials took a detailed look. The issue was whether Welsby and Mata'utia had handled the ball in unison. Davies had the easiest of conversions, front and centre of the posts. The champions were within two points with 15 electric minutes left to play.
Just when this thrilling game looked like it couldn’t throw up another talking point, Regan Grace looked like he had given Saints an incredible late win. The try was not given on the field, and the video referee concurred. Arthur Romano’s superb tackle had destabilised Grace enough to head off the danger. A huge, game-defining moment almost at the death.
You can never fully count Saints out, and it was hard to shake the feeling the champions would pull something out of the bag late on. But the Dragons held on brilliantly for a victory that will be talked about in this part of the world for a long time.
*18+ | BeGambleAware | Odds Subject To Change