In a world full of uncertainty, we should perhaps always have relied on the Super League to deliver an event that reminds us of everything life was like it was before Covid-19.
There won’t be a new Super League winner in 2020 either, and again there are two teams that have more Grand Final appearances than anyone else fighting for the right to become champions.
Wigan and St. Helens are often reluctant to be reminded of the things that unite two cities just eight miles from Lancashire Road, but rarely has that sense of resemblance been more prevalent than the two semifinals that ultimately gave them their respective places in the final on the coming Friday in the unusual neighborhood of Hull. On Thursday, Wigan was brilliant defensively and clinically offensively, keeping Hull without trials all evening and scoring a number of wonderful tries in response.
Here was St.. Helens did the same against a Catalan team that deserved to end their home season – with their tenth trip to England in less than four months – but whose hopes for a first final here fell partly due to their own indiscipline. « It’s such a disappointing end after a great effort by the club throughout the season – but clearly, they are the two best teams in the competition, » said their coach Steve McNamara.
James Maloney’s early penalty for the Catalans 2-0 was all they could muster all evening. At halftime they were down 14-2 thanks to attempts by Lachlan Coote and Kevin Naiqama after St. Helens was repeatedly in attack position after repeated penalties. One of them, a high tackle against Regan Grace, saw Maloney be sinful for 10 minutes, with Coote scoring the game’s first try a moment later.
And when Naiqama extended that lead with his second two minutes after the break, you felt even then that the Catalans had no answer as to what St. Helens got in their way. « They were excellent, » said Kristian Woolf, the coach of St. Helens. « We’re going to enjoy this week because it’s a great week to be in the final. “The prospect of becoming the first team to defend the title since Leeds in 2012 is now within our grasp and there was little doubt that the dream would end here.
Coote’s second, after a great pass from Zeb Taia, was followed by an attempt by Jonny Lomax and then a sin for Ben Garcia, which opened the floodgates further. Within two tackles, James Bentley had crossed another well-crafted platoon before Naiqama’s hat-trick, a formidable performance on the field, was repeated by Grace as the Catalans could simply watch the international race in Wales and underscore the class divide between the pages.
This means that James Graham, like Sean O’Loughlin, will have the chance to end his career with another Super League title. However, he must pass the concussion protocol the week after failing a head test in the first half.
The subplots are intriguing, and the prospect of one of the grand finals is a definite possibility now that, as McNamara rightly said, the two best teams in the competition have booked their places in the finals.
Three weeks ago, St. Helens and Wigan one of the best games in recent years in a season that at some point didn’t look like it was going to be over at all. That night, it was Wigan who emerged victorious – but if the rematch is half as good as next Friday, we are facing a hell of a climax by 2020.
St. Helens Coote; Makinson, Naiqama, Welsby, Grace; Lomax, Fages; Walmsley, Roby, Graham, Taia, Bentley, Knowles Interchange Peyroux, McCarthy-Scarsbrook, Lees, Amor Tries Coote 2, Naiqama 3, Lomax, Bentley and Grace Goals Coote 8
Catalans Tomkins; Mead, Langi, Folau, Davies; Maloney, drinking water; Bousquet, Da Costa, Moa, Whitley, Garcia, Casty Interchange Simon, Seguier, Baitieri, Kasiano Tore Maloney Referee L Moore
St Helens R. . F.. . C.. . , Catalans Dragons, Wigan Warriors, Super League, Kevin Naiqama and Lachlan Coote
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