5 Things We Learned #80

Allez Les Dracs!

What a performance from Catalans. Steve McNamara’s side fully deserved their maiden Challenge Cup title. The Dragons’ stunned their opponents with an intensity that couldn’t be matched and while the Wolves eventually pushed them close, it always felt as if the trophy was going to Perpignan.

The Dragons’ quick start undoubtedly made a big difference. From the first minute they played quick, tough rugby and simply wanted it more. You could argue that their first try came from a Wolves mistake, but it still took some scoring and the fact that they broke down the Wolves line on two further occasions in the first 10 minutes just shows how up for it they were. They managed to keep that up for the full 80 minutes and the rest, as they say, is history.

 

Catalans definitely ARE good for Super League

I’ve often been a fan of Marwan Koukash, but his comments about the Dragons last week were very small-minded. The former Salford owner hit out at the French club ahead of the Challenge Cup Final, saying that “overseas clubs bring nothing” to the game. It seems to me like a poor attempt to stay relevant and create headlines within the rugby league circle, despite the fact he’s no longer directly involved.

Since their introduction to Super League in 2006, Catalans have worked tirelessly to grow the game in France. They’ve built up a strong fanbase that is still growing and are constantly producing quality talent, with nine French native’s being part of their Cup winning squad. That’s all without mentioning the often expansive and exciting brand of rugby they play. As I wrote last week, rugby league needs to become a global product so we need expansion clubs such as the Dragons for the sport to grow. On the subject of expansion, it looks as if Serbian side Red Star Belgrade will be part of the Challenge Cup next year, which is another big step forward. They’ve been growing as a club over the past couple of years and would be a welcome addition to the competition.

 

Two unlikely champions

There were two players in particular in Catalans’ winning side who, this time last year, probably would never have considered themselves finalists. Lance Todd Trophy winner Tony Gigot and back rower Mickaël Goudemand were in very different situations but both a fair way from even playing top level rugby.Gigot was in the midst of his ban for an alleged ‘inappropriate exchange with an anti-doping official’ and was unable to play altogether. It’s no wonder, therefore, that he was overcome with emotion after Saturday’s final whistle. His interview with Damian Johnson on the BBC was lovely to watch.

Goudemand, on the other hand, is probably still wondering how he’s ended up in such a position. He watched last year’s final in the stands as a guest of Dewsbury Rams, for whom he turned out for eight times in 2017. A contract with the Dragons’ feeder team, St Esteve, then came and he’s since managed to impress enough to force his way into the first team. Steve McNamara even singled him out after Saturday’s final as one of the strongest performers.

 

Warrington lack ‘big game’ experience

So while it would be unfair to say Catalans won the Challenge Cup because of an under-par Warrington side, the Wolves will definitely believe they could’ve given more. Their error count in the second half will no doubt have Steve Price ripping his hair out and thinking about what could’ve been, as they squandered numerous chances that were virtually handed to them.

Admittedly, the Dragons’ goal-line defence was as spirited and determined as it could have been, but Wire barely threatened it. Kevin Brown and Tyrone Roberts were completely out of sync and looked desperate and panicky in the latter stages. Roberts, in particular, tried to take the game into his own hands and had barely any structure or organisation to his game. Effectively, they choked on the big stage – Catalans stunned them and they never recovered. It’s a worrying sign for a team with hopes of a Grand Final berth.

 

Beevers creating her own history

While everyone was caught up in Catalans’ first ever Challenge Cup Final win, another member of matchday personnel was creating history of her own. Teenage Yorkshire official Caitlin Beevers became the first female to referee a rugby league game at Wembley when she took charge of the Year Seven Champions Schools Boys Final. The game saw Wade Deacon High School from Widnes come away winners, defeating Wigan’s St John Fisher 18-10 much thanks to a man-of-the-match performance from fullback Harry Robertson, who scored a hattrick.

It was actually the second time Beevers has made Challenge Cup history this year, after she was part of the Leeds Rhinos side that won the inaugural women’s competition earlier this month, even scoring a try herself. She, along with many of the youngsters she was in charge of on Saturday most certainly have bright futures in our game.