Catalans Dragons put in a stunning performance to dominate St. Helens and reach the Challenge Cup final in emphatic fashion.
St. Helens endured a terrible afternoon at the University of Bolton Stadium, as mistake after mistake gifted Catalans tries and they looked nothing like the side that has cruised the regular Super League season.
Catalans made a sensational start to the match and stormed to a sensational 29-0 half-time lead. Benjamin Garcia powered over the line soon after Lewis Tierney has crossed brilliantly as the French side romped their way to the break.
A St. Helens mistake from the restart gifted Catalans possession and Tony Gigot cleverly opted for a drop goal instead of pushing for a third try.
Saints simply couldn’t get to grips with Catalans’ attacking play as their composure was tested to the full. And, rather unsurprisingly, they failed to deliver. Morgan Knowles was sin-binned for a needless high tackle on Kenny Edwards which all but ended the first half as a contest.
Drinkwater kicked the penalty and the 12 men were all over the place as some brilliant movement from Tony Gigot, on the last tackle, saw him orchestrate and finish a try which we have become accustomed to seeing Ben Barba score this season.
By this point, the French side were in cruise control and when the St. Helens defence froze in front of a mis-placed pass and Garcia was again left free to collect and dive over for a 25-0 lead with just a minute of the first forty remaining.
Whilst everyone will be in awe of the Dragons’ attack, and rightly so, huge credit must be given to their defence who stopped Ben Barba, Regan Grace and Danny Richardson at source for practically the whole 80 minutes.
A colossal half-time team talk was needed for Justin Holbrook to wake up St. Helens, but whatever he said during the interval clearly wasn’t digested by his players as Catalans were attacking underneath the posts within four minutes of the restart.
Another wise choice from Drinkwater added another two points and Catalans lead 29-0 with 35 minutes to play.
Saints were unrecognisable to the side who only lost two Super League matches this term and although they put up a solid fight in the second half, they left themselves too much to do.
Brilliant first time passing forced Tierney to gamble and move in early which left Mark Percival in acres of space; who duly obliged in crossing the whitewash to give St. Helens a glimmer of hope.
A high tackle on Percival then gave Saints good position and Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook powered his way through not one but two Catalans challenges to give Saints their second try in quick succession.
But with just under 20 minutes to go, Sam Moa powered his way through the St. Helens defence and launched himself over the line to re-instate his side’s 25-point lead.
Saints’ momentum was shattered and the Liverpool-based club suffered only their third defeat of the season.
A second try from Percival, going over in the corner under severe pressure, showed that they never gave up but time was against the runaway league leaders and the final hooter finally signaled the end of Saints’ quest for Wembley.
St. Helens will look to bounce straight back when they face Huddersfield Giants in the first round of the Super 8s next week, whereas Catalans will hope to use this performance as a springboard for their tie against fellow semi-finalists Warrington Wolves.
WHAT WE’VE LEARNED
Saints are beatable
Never before have we seen St. Helens be dismantled like this this season. Time after time there were too many gaps left in the middle of their defence, which Catalans duly exploited on numerous occasions. If you stood the players next to those who beat Wigan in their own backyard, the difference would be immeasurable. Surely they will pick themselves up in time to play Huddersfield Giants next week, though.
Catalans are underrated
At the start of the season, Catalans were almost a laughing stock. Many people, fans and pundits alike, wrote them off to the Qualifiers and another Million Pound game, but this performance has shown everyone just how good they are. They were immense to a man. If ex-England coach Steve McNamara can keep his players energised and fit, they may well lift the trophy at Wembley in three weeks’ time.
Man Of The Match- Tony Gigot (Catalans Dragons)
Many would give the Man of the Match award to Benjamin Garcia after his two impressive tries, but Tony Gigot was at the heart of everything positive that Catalans did. And there was a lot of it. Not only did he have the knowhow to play for the drop goal at an important stage in proceedings, Gigot got himself a try too.
Crucially though, his game management was impeccable. The fullback’s wonderful kicking and awareness made sure that Catalans were always in control of the match. A simply brilliant performance from the Frenchman.
St. Helens 16
Tries: Percival (2), McCarthy-Scarsbrook
Goals: Richardson (2)
Drop Goals: n/a
Catalans Dragons 35
Tries: Tierney, Garcia, (2), Gigot, Moa
Goals: Drinkwater (7)
Drop Goals: Gigot
St. Helens: Barba, Swift, Makinson, Percival, Grace; Lomax, Richardson; Amor, Roby, Thompson, Knowles, Taia, Wilkin.
Interchanges: Fages, McCarthy-Scarsbrook, Douglas, Lees.
Catalans Dragons: Gigot, Tierney, Mead, Wiliame, Yaha; Langi, Drinkwater; Simon, McIlorum, Moa, Jullien, Garcia, Casty.
Interchanges: Bousquet, Anderson, Edwards, Baitieri.
Referee: R. Hicks