When Saints were drawn away at the Catalans Dragons in the quarter finals of the 2022 Challenge Cup, most people saw the repeat of last season’s Grand Final as likely being the producer of the eventual winner of the competition.
The Dragons had May, Julien and Romano all starting as changes from the side which lost in to the Saints in round one, while for Saints only difference was the swapping of Sironen for Mata´utia in the starting thirteen with Norman being brought in on the bench.
Saints, of course won last year´s season culminating Old Trafford meeting for the games ultimate prize, and the two sides also met for the opening match of the season which Saints won more comfortably by 28-8, but this was a meeting in the south of France and in front of a notoriously hostile and partisan home crowd.
Back-to-back penalties conceded by the Dragons, the second close to their own line for offside, saw Saints elect to kick the penalty goal for an early lead and from under the shadow of the posts Tommy Makinson slotted the ball between the uprights.
Ben Julien went close on seven on the Dragons first real attack and three plays later a high tackle on Sam Tomkins gifted a penalty five out from the Saints line but after they opted to run it a strong kick went dead in goal.
On sixteen the Dragons got the first four pointer of the game with fast hands from right to left and into the hands of Fouad Yaha from Josh Drinkwater with the free-scoring winger summersaulting over to score one-handed in the corner. Sam Tomkins was unable to add the conversion, settling for a two-point lead.
It took Saints four minutes to reply with a one-two between Jack Welsby and Will Hopoate, the former taking the last pass in a fifty metre move to round close to the sticks. Makinson added the conversion for an 8-4 lead to the visitors.
It was all too easy as Saints executed a carbon copy move on twenty-three and they rolled through the Dragons defence with the final pass ending with Lewis Dodd to scamper behind the sticks, the Catalans defenders trailing in their wake. Makinson was again accurate with the boot, the Dragons spirt starting to weaken.
On twenty-six Mark Percival broke the Dragons line off a Jonny Lomax pass to sprint twenty metres to the line and ground. Makinson again added the conversion, St Helens demonstrating their total control at 20-4.
On thirty minutes it got worse for the home side when talisman Sam Tomkins limed off the field, in back play Curtis Sironen was yellow carded for a high tackle. Within a minute of the restart the thirteen men pried the door ajar with Gil Dudson taking the pass at first receiver and cross the line for a two metre try. In the absence of Tomkins, Arthur Mourgue added the conversion for 10-20.
Yaha dropped the ball with the line begging on thirty-seven as the Dragons spurned a chance to further reduce the arrears before half time.
Four minutes after the restart Morgan Knowles found his way over after Percival had gone close on the previous tackle as he pushed away two attempted tackles. Makinson added the touchline conversion for 26-10.
After some concentrated possession in the Saints twenty the Dragons grabbed their third try with a great miss-out pass from Drinkwater sticking in the hands of Yaha to again summersault over the line for a great second try. Mourgue converted from the left touchline to again reduce the arrears to ten points.
Just before the hour mark a massive loss of concentration in the Dragons defence allowed Dan Norman to take the ball at first receiver and walk in through the hole where his marker should have been. Makinson kicked his sixth goal of the afternoon and the game again looked to have drifted beyond the Dragons.
The final nail was banged into the Dragons coffin on sixty-eight when Lomax fed Joe Batchelor to crash the line and reach down to ground. Makinson missed his first conversion of the afternoon but with twenty-point lead and ten minutes on the clock there was no way back for the home side.
A late consolation, a Tom Davies try in the right-hand corner off a long pass, was little comfort to the Dragons and their supporters as they were comprehensively defeated by the Champions. Mourgue was unable to add the extras, the Dragons going out with a 20-36 defeat to St Helens.
Saints made it past the toughest of possible hurdles against a physical Catalans in front of a vociferous crowd. Perhaps the engraver will already be planning on adding the famous name of St Helens for a fourteenth time.
Catalans Dragons: Tomkins, Yaha (2T), May, Romano, Davies (T), Drinkwater, Pearce, Napa, McIlorum, Dudson (T), Julien, McMeeken, Garcia. Subs: Mourgue (G), Dezaria, Chan, Kasiano.
St Helens: Welsby (T), Hopoate, Hurrell, Percival (T), Makinson (6G), Lomax, Dodd (T), Walmsley, Roby, Lees, Sironen (SB on 30), Batchelor (T), Knowles (T). Subs: Lussick, McCarthy-Scarsbrook, Paasi, Norman (T).
Score Progression: 0-2, 4-2, 4-6, 4-8, 4-12, 4-14, 4-18, 4-20, (SB), 8-20, 10-20 : HT : 10-24, 10-26, 14-26, 16-26, 16-30, 16-32, 16-36, 20-36 : FT .
Referee: Chris Kendall.