It was the twenty-fourth Super League Grand Final at Old Trafford as the minor premiers, Catalans Dragons, took on the defending champions St Helens with eighty minutes separating both teams from glory.
It was the final that it should have been, the top two sides in the league facing off against one another but most neutrals would be ‘Dragons for a Day’ in the hope that there would be a new name on the trophy in 2021.
The Dragons won two out of the three games that the sides have played, including that memorable last second win at the Magic Weekend, but the bookies had made the Saints the favourites for the win as they expected Grand Final experience to count.
The atmosphere was electric from the kick-off, despite some gaps in the stadia and an empty upper stand. Saints had the upper hand as the Dragons spent their time in defence, managing to keep their line intact.
The Dragons took the lead after getting a penalty on their first foray into the Saints half, James Maloney slotting the ball between the uprights.
A jinking Kevin Naiqama scored the opening try of the game as he mesmerised the Dragons defence and then forced the ball onto the ground with the Catalans tacklers trying to hold him up in goal. Lachlan Coote was unable to add the conversion from wide, Saints with a 4-0 lead.
A high tackle from Benjamin Garcia on Jonny Lomax gave Coote a simple penalty goal opportunity and he drilled the kick between the uprights of twenty-one to double Saints lead.
Both teams lost the ball in quick succession on twenty-four and after a set restart the Dragons were given a penalty in front of the sticks and just ten from the line. Maloney kicked the simple goal to reduce the arrears.
Saints certainly had the best of the first half but took a slender two-point lead into the interval and despite being under pressure for long periods the Catalans Dragons were still in the game after a bruising opening forty minutes.
A high tackle from Tommy Makinson on Fouad Yaha prevented the first Dragons try on forty-five with the Saints winger being shown a yellow card and the Dragons being presented with a penalty.
A forty-eight minute Josh Drinkwater 40-20 put the Dragons in the perfect strike position and on the last tackle a high Drinkwater kick to the corner was tapped back by Tom Davies into the hands of Mike McMeeken to ground over the line, and to put the minor premiers back into the lead. Maloney added the conversion, the Dragons 10-6 ahead.
As the hour mark passed the Dragons maintained their lead but Saints had visibly upped a gear.
On sixty-five Naiqama got his second of the game as he slid in from five metres after collecting a pin-point Lomax grubber kick. As Naiqama left the field following an injury sustained in scoring the try, Coote added the conversion to edge his side into a 12-10 lead with thirteen minutes remaining.
It was the Dragons turn to crank up the pressure as they forced back to back goal line dropouts, but Saints held firm and when they kicked to clear their lines Tom Davies made a big mistake and parried the ball into touch. Try as they might the Dragons couldn’t make the breakthrough as Saints defended for their lives.
Saints held on against a very determined Dragons side to win their third consecutive Grand Final and draw them level with the Leeds Rhinos on eight wins in the modern era. The Dragons were worthy opponents and pushed the Champions every step of the way but in the end, they came up short. All credit to both sides for serving up a great final, and congratulations to Saints on a terrific win.
St Helens: Coote (2G), Makinson (SB on 45), Naiqama (2T), Percival, Grace, Lomax, Dodd, Walmsley, Roby, Lees, Mata’utia, Batchelor, Knowles. Subs: Amor, Paasi, Welsby, McCarthy-Scarsbrook.
Catalans Dragons: Tomkins S, Yaha, Langi, Whare, Davies, Drinkwater, Maloney (3G), Bousquet, McIlorum, Dudson, Whitley, McMeeken (T), Garcia. Subs: Mourgue, Goudemand, Tomkins J, Kasiano.
Referee: Liam Moore.
Score Progression: 2-0, 2-4, 2-6, 4-6 : HT : (SB), 8-6, 10-6, 10-10, 10-12 : FT.
Venue: Old Trafford, Manchester.