Two of Super League’s form sides met at the Stade Gilbert Brutus in Perpignan as the Catalans Dragons welcomed the league leading and unbeaten St Helens to play a game in front of a thousand Dragons supporters, the first time fans had been allowed into the ground since last September.
Saints were the favourites for their seventh win of the 2021 season, but the Dragons were old given a six-point start on the coupon as a competitive game was forecast.
The Dragons knew that they would need to start brightly to avoid the thrashing that they had suffered in their last two encounters with the Saints but with Sam Tomkins and Samisoni Langi both being withdrawn after the warm-up, Steve McNamara was forced into some potentially unsettling team changes very close to kick-off.
Kevin Naiqama had a seemingly good try ruled out by the referee on seven, without consulting the video official, as he scored spectacularly in the right corner. A video slow-motion validated the decision as the Saints winger clearly had a foot in touch.
On twelve it was the Dragons who got the scoreboard moving when James Maloney kicked a fifteen-metre penalty goal for a 2-0 lead.
On twenty-two the Dragons made full use of a penalty when Maloney threw the dummy and dipped the shoulder to run in the try on the second tackle and make it 6-0. He added the conversion to his own try to increase the punishment for Saints indiscretion.
Saints had their chances, none clearer than ninety seconds from the interval when Naiqama was denied by a forward pass, but it was a late tackle on Theo Fages that allowed Saints to get back within six of their hosts when Lachlan Coote kicked the two pointer in the half time hooter.
A minute after the restart Regan Grace lost the ball inside his own ten metre zone and a sensational pick up and back handed pass from Mike McMeeken into the hands of Dean Whare allowed a walk-in try. Maloney added the conversion for a twelve-point lead.
Saints fist four-pointer came on fifty minutes when Mark Percival took a Coote short pass to crash over from five metres out. Coote pulled his kick wide of the posts, Saints still eight adrift.
Benjamin Jullien was over on fifty-five as the Dragons refused to yield to the Saints. Great hands gave Jullien space to throw the dummy and drop the right shoulder to coast in for the Dragons third try of the afternoon. Maloney added the extras to open a fourteen-point lead with just over twenty minutes left on the clock.
Three consecutive penalties conceded by the Dragons gifted Saints position and possession on seventy and on the third tackle Percival found a gap to bust the Catalans line for his second of the game. Coote added the conversion from wide, the lead narrowed to eight points with nine minutes remaining.
The Dragons were forced to drop out from under their own sticks with five remaining and four tackles in Grace managed to duck under the defenders to get the ball to ground, taking a knock to the head for his trouble. Coote couldn’t add the conversion, Saints still four adrift with three minutes remaining.
Saints knocked-on as they tried to force the pass and chase the win and back in possession the Dragons managed to run the clock down by keeping hold of the ball. The handover happened with thirty seconds remaining but the clock ran down to sound a Dragons win.
This was a vital win for the Dragons, and a disappointing loss for the Saints. The Dragons are now level on win-percentage with the Champions as Wigan go top thanks to their slender win at Salford earlier in the day. Saints have dropped to second spot but even this early in the season it is looking like Catalans are justified contenders for the 2021 crown alongside Saints and Wigan.
Catalans Dragons: Mourgue, Yaha, Laguerre, Whare (T), Davies, Drinkwater, Maloney (T, 4G), Bousquet, McIlorum, Dudson, Jullien (T), McMeeken, Garcia. Subs: Dezaria, Goudemand, Tomkins J, Kasiano.
St Helens: Coote (2G), Naiqama, Percival (2T), Welsby, Grace (T), Lomax, Fages, Paasi, Roby, McCarthy-Scarsbrook, Mata’utia, Thompson, Knowles. Subs: Walmsley, Amor, Batchelor, Dodd.
Referee: Rob Hicks.
Score Progression: 2-0, 6-0, 8-0, 8-2 : HT : 12-2, 14-2, 14-6, 18-6, 20-6, 20-10, 20-12, 20-16 : FT.