St Helens got their title defence off to a winning start, overcoming an awkward Catalans Dragons side in a rematch of last season’s Grand Final.
Four first half tries gave the reigning champions the advantage at the break, and they held their nerve in the second to start the year with two points.
Kristian Woolf’s side are chasing a fourth consecutive Betfred Super League title, and welcomed new signings Konrad Hurrell, Kurt Sironen & Joey Lussick into their 17.
Catalans also welcomed three new signings into their side in the form of Dylan Napa, Tyrone May and Mitchell Pearce.
The visitors had bright moments during the game, but ultimately paid the price for a high error count and poor discipline, seeing one player sent to the sin-bin, and another red carded throughout the course of the match
St Helens took to the field to a crescendo of fireworks and flamethrowers, and the pyrotechnics set the temperature right from the start, with a coming together between the players in the first minute, and Gil Dudson being sent to the sin-bin for his involvement.
Despite being a player short, it was the Dragons who had the first big scoring chance, only for Matt Whitley to lose control of the ball as he tried to gather over the St Helens line.
They French side didn’t have to wait too much longer to get the first try of the new season however, Josh Drinkwater found Fouad Yaha in acres of space with an inch-perfect cross-field kick, leaving the winger with the simplest of finishes to silence to the home crowd.
Pundits and fans alike had been talking up the new found rivalry between these two sides following two classic encounters in 2021, and tempers reached boiling point again 15 minutes, with Catalans again coming out of the fray with a penalty.
Saints withstood the pressure however, and a few barnstorming runs from Alex Walmsley and Konrad Hurrell got them on the front foot, before Tommy Makinson found space on the left wing to open the Champions account for the season.
Kristian Woolf’s side now had the ascendency, and they quickly had a second try. Debutant Hurrell produced a brilliant offload, and the evergreen James Roby was there in support to dive over.
It’s impossible not to marvel at the longevity of James Roby, but it was a player at the other end of his St Helens career who came up with the next moment of magic. Lewis Dodd took on the Catalans line, before rushing through to collect his own grubber kick and score.
With five minutes left in the first half, Saints were dominant, and the tries start to flow freely as Makinson again crossed on the left hand side to extend the lead. There’s long way to go until the World Cup, but Shaun Wane will be impressed with what he’s seem from the England Winger so far…
If there was one area of concern for St Helens in the first forty, it was their goal-kicking. They failed to convert a single one of their tries, meaning that despite outscoring Catalans four-to-one, they took just an eight point lead into the sheds after Sam Tomkins added a penalty for the visitors.
HT: St Helens 16 Catalans Dragons 8
St Helens take the lead ✅
Saints did eventually find some joy with the boot, Dodd getting the fist points of the second half with a penalty to push the home side out to a 10 point lead, there were perhaps too many memories of Magic Weekend in the atmosphere for St Helens fans to feel comfortable, but this looked like the composed, attritional that we’ve seen edge out so many tight games in the last few years.
That said, where the first half was an end-to-end affair, the second half was an arm-wrestle with both forward packs sizing each other up and daring the other to flinch first. Whether it was a case of cold fingers, or early season rustiness, the errors started to creep in on both sides of the ball, and still the home crowd were unable to relax. Everytime Saints coughed up possession, those missed conversions seemed to loom large.
With eight minutes left on the clock however, there was another flash point. Catalans debutant Dylan Napa saw red for a shoulder charge, whilst Moragn Knowles was sent to the sin-bin for reacting.
Three minutes later, and Saints could finally have some confidence that their side were over the line. New signing Joey Lussick spotted a gap at the play-the-ball and darted over the line, something a trademark from his time at Salford.
There was still time for one more try, as Konrad Hurrell intercepted a Catalans pass, and strolled home for his first points in the red V.
Finally Catalans looked beaten and there was to be no repeat of their Magic Weekend heroics, as St Helens held on for an opening night win.
F/T: St Helens 28 – Catalans Dragons 8.
Next for St Helens is a trip to Hull FC, whilst Catalans host Wakefield.
St Helens: Welsby, Hopoate, Hurrell, Percival, Makinson, Lomax, Dodd, Walmsley, Roby, Lees, Mata’utia, Batchelor, Knowles.
Bench: Lussick, McCarthy-Scarsbrook, Sironen, Paasi.
Catalans Dragons: Tomkins, Davies, Langi, Whare, Yaha, Pearce, Drinkwater, Dudson, McIlorum, Napa, Whitley, McMeeken, Garcia.
Bench: Bousquet, May, Dezeria, Kasiano