One hundred and twenty-three days since the Super League 2021 Grand Final saw St Helens narrowly beat the Catalans Dragons to lift the trophy, last season´s top two sides signalled the start of the 2022 season with the season opener at the Totally Wicked Stadium.
Many pundits have predicted that it will be these two sides, last years Minor Premiers and Grand Final winners, sharing the honours again in Super League XXVII and this fixture would be the pick of any weekend in the top flight of the competition, a win would give the victors a great boost at the start of the season.
It took just ten seconds and one tackle for the first altercation of the season as the two sides got involved in bad-tempered pushing and shoving. Gil Dudson was sent to the sinbin for his part in lashing out in the ruck, a most inauspicious start for the Dragons front rower.
On three minutes the Dragons should have been in the lead when Jack Welsby failed to gather a kick through, but the chasing Matt Whitley knocked-on when the try was begging to be scored. It had been an action-packed opening, both sides were up for the scrap.
On twelve, and back to thirteen men, the Dragons hit the front with Fouad Yaha taking a second play Drinkwater chip over the top to run in unopposed from twenty metres for the first try of the new season. Sam Tomkins added the conversion from the touchline.
Ten minutes after the Dragons try, Saints chimed in with their first of the season with a miss-out pass from Sione Mata´utia into the hands of Tommy Makinson to go over in the left-hand corner. Lewis Dodd pushed his conversion attempt across the posts, Saints still two behind.
A superb try on twenty-six, James Roby taking a Konrad Hurrell offloaded flick pass to dive in by the right corner flag, edged Saints into a two-point lead. Dodd was again unable to add the extra two points but a moment of brilliance from Hurrell had given the home side the lead.
On thirty-two Saints were in again after a pinpoint Dodd grubber kick was chased and collected by the half-back himself for a great solo try. He picked up an injury in scoring the try Tommy Makinson stepped up to take the kick and skewed it wide of the uprights. It was three tries to one in Saints favour, but the lead was only six points.
Saints were now scoring freely and on thirty-seven minutes fast hands down the left-hand side saw the ball into the hands of Makinson to walk over for his second of the night. Dodd was back on goal kicking duties and this time his kick was short of the uprights.
In the dying seconds of the game the Dragons kicked a penalty from the boot of Sam Tomkins to reduce the arrears to eight points.
After withstanding early second half pressure from the Dragons it was Saints who registered the first points of the second half thanks to a Dodd penalty after Tomkins was called offside on fifty-four.
With nine minutes remaining a massive illegal hit from Dylan Napa on Nathan Percival saw the Dragons debutant red carded for an attack to the head, a ten-point comeback in the remaining eight minutes for the Dragons was now looking increasingly unlikely.
Curtis Sironen and Gil Dudson went head-to-head in the next tackle as referee Moore struggled to keep control of two fired up sides.
On seventy-three Joey Lussick found space down the middle of the field to evade the tacklers with a scoot from acting half back and dive over the line by the left upright. Dodd added the conversion, and the first points of the season were going to Saints.
Konrad Hurrell intercepted a wayward pass on seventy-seven for one of the easiest tries he will ever score as he ran in down the right wing to score in the corner. Dodd couldn´t add the conversion, Saints securing a 28-8 win.
From the early exchanges it looked as though it would be a great arm-wrestle of a game, but Saints bided their time and fully exploited some poor discipline from the visitors to eventually cruise to a comfortable win to get their campaign off to the best of all possible starts. McNamara will have some naval gazing to do as he looks like losing Bousquet to a broken arm and Napa to the vagaries of the disciplinary committee.
St Helens: Welsby, Hopoate, Hurrell (T), Percival, Makinson (2T), Lomax, Dodd (T, 2G), Walmsley, Roby (T), Lees, Mata´utia, Batchelor, Knowles. Subs: Lussick (T), McCarthy-Scarsbrook, Paasi, Sironen
Catalans Dragons: Tomkins (2G), Yaha (T), Langi, Whare, Davies, Drinkwater, Pearce, Napa (SO on 72), McIlorum, Dudson (SB on 1), Whitley, McMeeken, Garcia. Subs: Bousquet, Dezaria, May, Kasiano.
Score Progression: (SB), 0-4, 0-6, 4-6, 8-6, 12-6, 16-6, 16-8 : HT : 18-8, (SO), 22-8, 24-8, 28-8 : FT .
Referee: Liam Moore.