Warrington take on Catalans in this season’s Challenge Cup final on Saturday at Wembley. Here’s everything you need to know about the Dragons…
Catalans have reached the Challenge Cup final for only the second time, following on from their appearance in 2007 in the first final to be played at the new Wembley Stadium.
The Dragons, coached by Mick Potter, saw off Featherstone and Whitehaven before defeating a top Hull FC side 26-23 and then Wigan Warriors 37-24 in the semi-final.
It wasn’t meant to be on that occasion though, as they were beaten 30-8 against a St Helens side spearheaded by Leon Pryce and Paul Wellens, who jointly won the Lance Todd trophy in front of 84,000 fans.
The closest they had to come to another Wembley appearance since was in 2010, when they were defeated 54-12 in the semi-finals by none other than Saturday’s opponents, Warrington.
Route to Wembley
After finishing in the bottom four of Super League in 2017, the Dragons came into the Challenge Cup in the fifth round and faced League 1 side York City Knights. At the time the pressure on them was huge after a weak start to the season, and the trip to Bootham Crescent was far from straightforward as James Ford’s side pushed them all the way, but they managed to come out with a 34-22 win.
Still under pressure, Steve McNamara’s men were then drawn at home to another third tier side in Whitehaven, who they beat at the same round on their route to Wembley in 2007. The arrival of Josh Drinkwater was bringing a new spark to their game and Jodie Broughton scored a hat-trick as they ran in a total of 11 tries, scoring 40 unanswered points for a 52-10 win.
They faced their first Super League opposition in the quarter-finals with an away trip to Huddersfield. It was referred to by many as a dull affair, with only two penalties scored in the first half, but Catalans would have cared little about the final result as they stepped up in the second half to secure a 20-6 win with tries from David Mead and Greg Bird.
Although their league form had certainly picked up, Catalans went into the semi-finals as the underdogs against Justin Holbrook’s high-flying St Helens side. And yet, in proof of just how unpredictable rugby league can be, the Dragons went into the break with a 27-0 lead as an effective gameplan was brilliantly executed by the players in a dominant first half display. Despite two Saints tries in the second half, Sam Moa then scored next to virtually secure their place in the final with a 35-16 victory.
Josh Drinkwater has had a huge impact on the Dragons since signing in April. His kicking creates a lot of issues for the opposition as he is able to build pressure and tire sides out by continually bringing the ball from deep. Drinkwater is a half-back who enjoys running at the line and either exploiting gaps for himself or for others. The Australian was a crucial acquisition and it could be argued that if not for him, the Dragons wouldn’t be in this position.
Tony Gigot had a lot to prove after the off-field drama of last year, but he has returned to be a key player in Catalans’ revival. His versatility has meant he can play either in the halves or his more known position of full-back, where he is a regular try scorer who often pushes alongside the forwards looking for an offload. His pace makes him difficult to stop if he’s left in open space, and in a tight contest his ability to land drop goals is useful too.
After the injury of Jodie Broughton, Fouad Yaha has stepped up to the plate and taken over as their top scorer in Super League with 12 tries so far this year, including four in one contest. Yaha is a strong winger who is difficult to stop, and his opposite number Josh Charnley could have a tough afternoon if Yaha is allowed to get one-on-one with the former Wigan man.
Another player who could have a key impact on the game’s final outcome is Kenny Edwards. He hasn’t been at the Dragons long since signing in May, but six tries in 11 appearances is an impressive return for the second rower. He brings no shortage of aggression to their pack, but is also a threat to the opposition with his frequent line breaks.
Steve McNamara was a successful forward in his playing days, spending most of his career at hometown club Hull FC and then Bradford, where he was part of the 1997 side that won Super League, before finishing his career at Wakefield and Huddersfield. He also earned six Great Britain caps and a further five for England.
His coaching career started at the Bulls, where he took over from Brian Noble in 2006. That season ended with defeat in the play-offs, and he was never able to lead them to another Grand Final. His contract was terminated by mutual agreement in 2010, allowing him to become the full-time coach of England, whom he led to 16 wins from 27 matches.
He joined Catalans last season following the sacking of Laurent Frayssinous, and although he struggled to halt their slide the Dragons won the Million Pound Game, beating Leigh 26-10, to remain in Super League. Their poor form continued into this season and it looked like his reign would be coming to an end, but the club kept faith in him and have been rewarded with a remarkable turn in fortune over recent months, and he is now one win from the biggest achievement in the club’s history.
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