Eighty minutes stood between either St Helens or the Catalans Dragons and a Grand Final against the Wigan Warriors at KCOM Stadium in Hull next Friday night. Saints were massive favourites with the bookies and had home advantage against a Dragons side who were without the services or Michael McIlorum and Joel Tomkins who had both picked up big bans after indiscretions against the Rhinos last weekend.
Saints had the benefit of three weeks off while the Dragons made yet another trip to the UK after surrendering home advantage for last Fridays semi-final against Leeds. Steve McNamara brought a well drilled side and Saints were fully aware that they’d lost on their last two outings against first Salford and against Wigan in their last game to surrender the minor premiership. Kristian Woolf will have spent the week making sure his side didn’t slip up for a third time.
The Dragons opened the scoring on five minutes thanks to a James Maloney penalty goal after a high tackle by Alex Walmsley.
A tenth minute high tackle from Maloney on Regan Grace saw the Dragons aggression take up where it had left off last weekend. Maloney was shown the yellow card by referee Moore and would sit out the next ten minutes. On the back of four penalties Saints went over with Lachlan Coote taking a James Roby pass to drop over the line for a four pointer. Coote added the conversion, Saints up and running.
The Dragons were penalised on eighteen for delaying the play-the-ball a shot-clock infringement, and Coote accepted the invitation to kick the penalty to extend the lead to six points.
Just as you suspected that Saints may take control of the game and the scoreboard, the Dragons dug deep and took the game to the home side as they delivered their rough and tough brand of rugby.
Just after the half-hour mark Saints went further ahead, Kevin Naiqama on hand to complete a forty metre move as Saints found themselves three on one against a tiring defence. Coote added the conversion for 14-2, the Dragons needed to score next.
It had been a costly first half in personnel terms for Saints with James Graham paying the price for the aggressive defence from the Dragons, failing his head assessment and out for the remainder of the game.
Catalan needed to score first in the second half but it was Saints who made it over the whitewash on forty-two with Naiqama getting his second after a Coote grubber into the in-goal where the centre dived on the loose ball for a four-pointer. Coote hit the far upright with the kick, Saints with one foot in the Grand Final.
Coote joined Naiqama on two tries on fifty minutes after Sam Tomkins spilled a high kick and Coote took a Theo Fages pass to hit a gap and go in from ten metres. Coote added the conversion, his third of the night.
Jonny Lomax joined in the action on fifty-five taking a Jack Welsby inside pass to run in unopposed from twenty metres. Coote added the conversion for 30-2 and it was game over.
On the next play tempers boiled over after a high tackle by David Mead on McCarthy-Scarsbrook, referee putting both captains on a warning for players joining in the fracas. When hostilities broke out again a few minutes later Benjamin Garcia was shown a yellow card for an attack to Lomax’s head.
On the next set Roby wriggled and arm loose in the tackle and found James Bentley in space to score by the posts. Coote added the conversion as Saints confirmed their date in Hull next week.
A wayward Maloney try went into the hands of Naiqama, five metres from his own line, and the speedy Saints centre went the length of the field to complete his hat-trick. Coote added the conversion for 42-2, the demolition complete.
Regan Grace emulated Naiqama’s third try when he went the length of the field after diffusing a bomb five metres from his own line and sprinting through clean air to the Dragons try line. Coote added the conversion for 48-2, it was rapidly becoming embarrassing for the visitors.
The Dragons arrived in St Helens with a game plan to physically batter the Red Vee and hope to beat them into submission. All that happened was that Saints withstood the punishment and repaid it with interest as they set about demolishing the Dragons on the scoreboard. Catalans were never in the game and Saints were good value for their comprehensive win as they set up a derby Grand Final against Wigan Warriors for the first time since 2014.
Saints: Coote (2T, 7G), Grace (T), Welsby, Naiqama (3T), Makinson, Lomax (T), Fages, Walmsley, Roby, Graham, Taia, Bentley (T), Knowles. Subs: Peyroux, McCarthy-Scarsbrook, Lees, Amor.
Catalans Dragons: Tomkins S, Mead, Langi, Folau, Davies, Drinkwater, Maloney (G, SB on 10), Bousquet, Da Costa, Moa, Whitley, Garcia (SB on 64), Casty. Subs: Simon, Seguier, Baitieri, Kasiano.
Referee: Liam Moore.
Half Time: 14-2.
Full Time: 48-2.
Venue: Totally Wicked Stadium, St Helens.