L'histoire seuns is weer besig. As jy 'n neutrale is, jy kan nie betwis dat rugbyliga nagte begeer het nie, en oomblikke, soos hierdie. Vier jaar gelede tot vandag toe, Catalans Dragons were fighting for their very existence in Super League, one defeat away from relegation to the Championship. That afternoon in Leigh has never felt so far away as it did here, as a sold-out, raucous home crowd in Perpignan watched the Dragons reach the Super League Grand Final for the first time.
When Catalans lifted the Challenge Cup at Wembley three years ago, some wondered if it was a fluke. This club, plagued with inconsistency since their arrival in Super League in 2007, surely didn’t have the credentials to do it in the league, over the course of a full season. How wrong their critics have been this year. Under the guidance of Steve McNamara, Catalans have been the best side in the competition in 2021, and they fully deserve their maiden Old Trafford appearance.
It will be a historic occasion. Not just for Catalans. Not just for French rugby league. But for the sport as a whole, to witness not only a new team grace the Grand Final, but a team from outside of England altogether. “We’ve got to go and win it now,” McNamara said after seeing off a valiant effort from Hull Kingston Rovers. “It’s only historic if we go and win it.” He may well be right, but it was hard to shake the feeling something special was happening all evening in Perpignan.
On the field, Catalans were as methodical and dominant as they have been for most of 2021. Leading 12-4 at half-time courtesy of tries from Ben Garcia and Josh Drinkwater, Rovers’ response from Shaun Kenny-Dowall as half-time approached had given them hope they could reach their first Grand Final against all the odds.
Tipped for relegation by many at the start of the year, this has been a remarkable run to within one game of Old Trafford, but it always felt likely to end here. “They outplayed us,” their coach, Tony Smith, gesê. “But we’ll remember this and learn from it next year.”
Rovers played their part, but when an error from Will Dagger allowed Arthur Mourgue to cross minutes after the restart, and Joe Chan followed suit with a try on the hour mark, the sold-out crowd inside the Stade Gilbert Brutus knew their team’s progression to the final was assured. By then, the atmosphere had seriously begun to intensify, and you hope as many of their supporters as possible can cross the Channel for the final.
Fouad Yaha’s try sparked further celebrations, and while Ryan Hall’s reply in the final minutes was the least Hull KR’s efforts deserved, it was simply mere consolation. By then, the party was already well underway in the terraces. If there are any lingering doubts that expansion in rugby league cannot work, you’d be well advised to attend Old Trafford next weekend: you could well be present as genuine sporting history is created.