The competitions two form teams met in Perpignan as the Catalans Dragons took on the league leading Wigan Warriors in the Saturday evening fixture. Wigan had top spot to lose and the Dragons looked to make it three teams at the top all level on points percentage.
Wigan were the favourites for the win but you can never underestimate Catalans on their home turf and in front of their own vociferous supporters.
The Dragons took up where they had left off last week against St Helens when Michael McIlorum crashed the lacklustre Warriors line with just five minutes on the clock. James Maloney was bang on target with his conversion for a 6-0 lead, if they'd not known it before then Wigan now knew that they were in a scrap for the points.
It was route one for the Dragons on thirteen as Maloney chased a grubber but he knocked on while trying to ground the ball under the sticks under good pressure from the Wigan defence.
Confusion in the Wigan defence as Drinkwater put in a grubber kick and after Jake Bibby was unable to gather in the kick Warriors old-boy Sam Tomkins was on hand to ground the ball. The video referee looked long and hard for an interference before giving the try. Maloney was again accurate with the boot for 12-0.
Langi was next to cross the line for the Dragons on 25 minutes but the Wigan defenders combined to hold him up.
Wigan’s next significant move with the all was to knock on at a play-the-ball on their own 20m, but fortunately for the cherry-and-whites, Catalans knocked on in turn when the hosts moved the ball to their left edge when the try line looked to be at their mercy.
The visiting defence started to jell with five minutes to go when Jake Bibby tackled Benjamin Jullien into touch. And it was Bibby who moved the ball to Dom Manfredi for a threatening run up with Wigan right on the resulting set, but the Catalan defence had the threat covered and cleaned up the threat.
But the Wigan defence gave away a penalty on the 40m line and, with four minutes to go Maloney opted to kick – and missed the goal keeping the score at 12-0. But not for long.
Tomkins notched his second try with just 60 seconds to the half-time hooter, crossing in the corner to move the score to 16-0. Maloney missed the touchline conversion attempt as the hooter sounded and the score was 16-0 as the teams went into the sheds for the break.
After a couple of threatening breaks by the Catalans early in the second half, Arthur Mourge made a scintillating break up the middle and was stopped by a high tackle I front of the posts. Unsurprisingly, the Dragons chose to kick the penalty and Maloney made no mistake from 20 metres out and the scoreboard moved to 18-0 in favour of the hosts.
Mourge moved it on again with a classy try. Receiving the ball in the middle from Sam Kasiano run, he found himself in space and spurned the chance to move the ball wide, He dashed forward, stepped round the Wigan defence and grounded the ball. Maloney added the two from in front and the Catalans led 24-0.
Less than two minutes later, with full-back Zak Hardaker taking a place in the Wigan defensive line because a player was down in back play, Josh Drinkwater threaded a grubber through into the in-goal and dashed in to ground the ball between the posts.
Maloney’s conversion meant the score was now 30-0 to the Dragons, with less than 60 minutes gone.
Just minutes later, Drinkwater doubled his try tally when he ghosted through the Wigan defensive line and plonked the ball down. Maloney converted and the lead was now 36-0.
The onslaught continued when David Whare broke down the left wing and passed inside to Mike McMeeken who ran through to score the Dragons seventh try in the corner, With Maloney’s kick, that took the score to 42-0.
With less than 15 minutes of the match left, Wigan got a penalty for a high tackle to set up a rare visit to the Catalan half, followed by a repeat penalty on the hosts’ 10m line. That was followed by a set restart and then a penalty for off side by the Catalan goal-line defence but couldn’t make the pressure pay and ended up knocking on.
Seconds later a Dragons knock-on saw the Warrior start a set on Catalan 20m but that chance was wasted when John Bateman gave away a penalty in possession.
As the game moved into its final 10 minutes though, the previous pattern of play reasserted itself as Catalan pressure moved play back into the Wigan 20m zone. Mathieu Laguerre scored after receiving a pass over the top of the Warriors defensive line from Drinkwater, who had latched onto a Maloney offload. Maloney’s conversion was almost a formality and the Warriors were on the wrong end of a 48-0 scoreline.
Wigan’s frustration spilled over into a scuffle when Hardaker headbutted Sam Tomkins, who was lending weight in a tackle and received a red card with less than two minutes to go.
Sam Tomkins came close to getting his hat-trick on the stroke of 79 minutes, but the Catalans gave away a penalty for obstruction and that was the end of the scoring. If there was any downside for the Catalans in a dominant performance it was that they didn’t manage to put 50 past the Cherry and Whites.
But they brought the curtain down in style on a round which had seen three teams win by 40-point margins or more.
Catalans Dragons: S Tomkins (2T), Davies, Whares, Langi, Laguerre (T), Maloney (7G, 1P), Drinkwater (2T), Bosquet, McIlorum (T), Dudson, Jullien, McMeeken (T), Garcia. Subs: Mourge (T), Goudemand, J Tomkins, Kasiano.
Wigan Warriors: Hardaker (Red Card), Manfredi, Bibby, Farrel, Hanley, Leuluai, Hastings, Singleton, Powell, Havard, Smithies, Bateman, Partington. Subs: Bullock, Byrne, Smith, Shorrocks.
Referee: James Child.
Score Progression: 4-0, 6-0, 10-0, 12-0, 16-0. Half Time. 18-0, 22-0, 24-0, 28-0, 30-0., 34-0, 36-0, 40-0, 42,0, 46-0, 48-0. Full Time