The bookies had made the Catalans Dragons slight favourites ahead of tonight’s final eliminator against a Saints side looking for their fifth consecutive Old Trafford appearance and potentially a fifth consecutive Grand Final win.
The two sides last met in July at the Totally Wicked Stadium when the Dragons secured a 14-12 win with the season’s previous meeting at the Stade Gilbert Brutus at the beginning of May also witnessing a Dragons win, by 24-12 on that occasion.
Steve McNamara’s side have had a week off to prepare for their big game, and once which they will have been building towards for the last month, while Saints had a tough run out last weekend in the opening round of the playoffs when they beat Warrington Wolves by 16-8.
The ‘Complet’ notices went up early in the afternoon for Stade Gilbert Brutus with a good contingent making the journey from St Helens to try and make themselves heard in the hostile environment that welcomed the sides onto the field.
The opening exchanges were exactly what had been expected pre-kick off, both sides at the top of their games but as the game approached the ten-minute mark the mistakes started to creep in as both sides tried to force the pass to get the breakthrough.
The games first controversy came on seventeen when Tom Johnstone chased a kick to the corner and pushed aside Jonny Lomax, who was shepherding the ball, to ground. The decision was sent up to the video referee as a ‘NO TRY’ and the fourth official agreed.
An awful mistake from Johnstone, knocking on ten from his own line as he tried to pick the ball up under no pressure, put Saints in a great position to open the scoring but the Dragons defence held firm.
A high tackle from Sione Mata’utia on Sam Tomkins saw the big Saints forward given a talking to, but not getting carded, despite demands from the home crowd. Adam Keighran kicked the resulting penalty from forty metres to put the Dragons into a slender lead on twenty-nine.
The quality of the game was deteriorating as it headed towards half time, nerves perhaps getting the better of both sides. Just the two points between the two sides at the interval.
Saints hit the front for the first time on forty-nine when Will Hopoate simply stepped through a big gap in the Dragons defence after a switch back pass inside from Jack Welsby created the space. Mark Percival added the conversion for a 6-4 lead.
A high tackle on Johnstone gave Keighran a second penalty goal of the night from thirty metres to edge his side back withing two points.
Saints would finish the game with twelve men after Matty Lees was yellow carded for holding down in the tackle after a Saints mistake gifted Catalans six again. Keighran kicked the resulting forty metre penalty and with eight minutes left on the clock it was 6-6.
A Saints knock-on from Tommy Makinson with five minutes remaining put the Dragons in the driving seat and after a good set they forced a goal line dropout.
An awful attempt at a drop goal from Tomkins on seventy-seven didn’t even reach the posts but as Saints worked the ball from their line Percival knocked-on twenty from his own line. With just over a minute left Tomkins feigned another drop goal but dropped his shoulder and jinked his way to the line to score under the sticks and seal the win for the Dragons. Keighran added the conversion for a 12-6 win, and a place in next weeks Grand Final at Old Trafford.
It was a tense play off eliminator where the passion was in excess of the quality of the play, which left plenty to be desired. It was very scrappy from both sides for the full eighty minutes and in the end it was mistakes which settled the outcome plus one moment of Tomkins individual flair. Lees sin binning was a turning point as St Helens let their lead slip in the last nine minutes. Saints incredible run of Grand Finals is over, the Dragons in the Grand Final for the second time in three years.
Catalans Dragons: Tomkins (T), Johnstone, Ikuvalu, Keighran (4G), Davies, Pearce, May, McMeeken, McIlorum, Taukeiaho, Whitley, Sequier, Garcia. Subs: Mourgue, Bousquet, Navarrete, Ma’u. 18th Man: Romano.
St Helens: Welsby, Makinson, Percival (G), Hopoate (T), Bennison, Lomax, Dodd, McCarthy-Scarsbrook, Roby, Lees (SB on 71), Mata’utia, Sironen, Knowles. Subs: Walmsley, Delaney, Bell, Mbye. 18th Man: Davies.
Score Progression: 2-0 : HT: 2-4, 2-6, 4-6, (SB), 6-6, 10-6, 12-6 :FT.
Lead Exchanges: Catalans – St Helens – Square - Catalans.
Referee: Chris Kendall.