A late March start for Super League 2021 might have rekindled hopes for summer rugby in the sunshine. But with Covid restrictions in force on both sides of the Channel, Catalan Dragons found themselves playing their opening home match in the grey of Emerald Headingley – along with every other tie of the round – rather than the sun of Perpignan when they came up against Hull KR.
Rovers finished bottom in an 11-team competition last year, and with relegation facing any team finishing 2021 in 12th, have made some big signings, in both senses of the word.
And they made their intentions clear when Ben Crooks found touch, and possession in the Dragons 20m zone, with the kick-off. But they failed to capitalise, passing the ball into touch on the other side at the end of their first set.
The Dragons move rapidly into Rovers’ 20 in their first set and Crooks turned villain when he spilled the cross-field kick that finished the set. Starting a second set in a great attacking position, the Dragons forced the KR defence to concentrate in the middle and Fouad
Yaha crossed in a wide gap on the Rovers’ left flank to open the scoring, with James Maloney converting for a 6-0 lead.
They almost doubled the score on nine minutes, but powerful Rovers winger Ryan Hall was on hand to force Tom Davies into touch as he dived to ground the ball.
Instead, it was Dragons’ second rower Matt Whitley who next moved the scoredboard after quarter of an hour after another swift right to left move across the team saw the ball in young Frenchman Mathieu Laguerre’s hand, with Whitley on following up to seize on his offload and cross. Maloney converted and the score read 12-0.
KR came close on with their own left edge after 20 minutes, before the set ended with a loose ball and a Sam Tomkins knock on. But presented with an attacking set starting on their opponents 20m line, they couldn’t complete it.
The team in a rather fetching mint green strip kept the play in the Dragons’ 20 and Hall notched up his first try for the Rovers when he took advantage of a loose ball and powered pas a broken defence to score in the corner. Jordan Abdull missed the conversion attempt and the score stood at 12-4 with 25 minutes gone.
Defences were on top for the next 10 minutes before Laguerre latched onto an offload from Tomkins and strolled over the for Dragons’ next score. Maloney’s conversion duly saw the Catalan team go into the sheds at half-time leading 18-4.
Benjamin Garcia opened up the Dragons’ second half performance by keeping the scoreboard rolling over within five minutes, pouncing on a creative short kick to score by the posts. The Catalan team settled into a 20-point lead once Maloney converted, and looked to have the game firmly in their control.
It was Yaha who strengthened when he got onto the end of a pass from the ever-present Tomkins to race in the corner for a 28-4 lead on 50 minutes, though Maloney failed to convert.
But 19-year-old Mikey Lewis brought the gap back to 20 with a swaggering solo try on Rovers’ first meaningful visit to the Catalans’ end of the field and scored under the posts. Abdull’s conversion took the score to 28-10. And just two minutes later, Hall scored again on his old Headingley stamping ground, picking up a kick to the sideline and running in.
Abdull’s kick made the score 28-16 and Rovers were back in the game.
They kept up the pressure on the Dragons for the next 15 minutes, and while they didn’t score, the game boiled over into a mass scuffle and Julian Bosquet of the Dragons took a 10-minute break, with just over 12 minutes of the match left.
Hall’s hat-trick try (and Abdull’s goal) duly made that pressure pay and brought them within a converted try and levelling the scores when he ran onto an Abdull kick to his sideline.
Tomkins, who had been talismanic, was forced off the field for a head injury assessmentwith less than five minutes to and teenagers Anton Mourge came on to take his place. Inevitably, on the next play, Sean King went over between the posts and with the inevitable conversion the game was tied up at 28-28.
And that’s it ended at the hooter, with both teams having to recompose themselves for golden point extra time.
Catalans kicked off, giving KR first use of the ball. But Rovers couldn’t make the distance for a drop-goal attempt and Mourge made a key break when the Dragons had the ball, and Maloney calmly slotted the winning goal.
Catalan Dragons: Tomkins, Davies, Whare, Laguerre (T), Yaha (T), Maloney (4G, DG), Drinkwater, Garcia (T), Whitley (T), McMeeken, Goudemand, Da Kosta, Bosquet (yellow card), Subs: Mourge, Segier, Baitieri, Kasiano.
Hull Kingston Rovers: Quinlan, Crooks, Hall (3T), Minikin, Kenny-Dowall, Lewis (T), Abdull (3G), Lawler, Hadley, Linnett, Kims, Litten, King. Subs: Vete, Parcell, Minchella, Storto.
Half Time: 18-4
Full Time: 28-28
Extra Time: 29-18.
Referee: James Child