Catalans Dragons have their eyes firmly on their first Super League title as they prepare to battle Wigan Warriors at Old Trafford. Les Dracs have reached the Grand Final just once before back in 2021, narrowly losing out to St Helens; but two years on from their first Grand Final heartbreak they know what it takes to lift a Super League title.
Speaking exclusively to Serious About Rugby League, Dragons Head Coach Steve McNamara spoke on the lessons the club have learned from that final and what it’ll take to be crowned champions on Saturday evening: “Yeah, we have (spoken about 2021). I thought we played very good in 2021 but we understood that very good wasn’t good enough to win a grand final. Sometimes you’ve got to be outstanding.”
He added: “I said in the press conference there, watch the Brisbane Broncos-Penrith game (NRL Grand Final). Brisbane were outstanding, but outstanding wasn’t good enough to win an NRL Grand Final, Penrith were excellent; so you know that the standard you have to play to win this game, you have to play your best game of the season or thereabouts. Both teams will have to do with that on Saturday night because I know we’re going to be very hard to beat.”
Whilst he highlighted his teams need to be ‘outstanding’ on Saturday if they are to beat League Leaders Shield winners Wigan Warriors, the Dragons have already played Wigan three times this season and won two of them, including the huge 46-22 win at Magic Weekend; however the Warriors got the better of Catalans in emphatic fashion as they romped to a 34-0 win in the South of France.
McNamara spoke about the takeaways from those contests, saying: “the first game feels like it was last season, it feels that long ago. I think both teams obviously did a great job on each other. I think we got our tactics right in the first game and Wigan smashed us in the second game with what they did right against us. So it sets up a great fourth clash, but if you like the play-off one for it.”
He also touched on whether being nilled at home would add any extra incentive this weekend: “I think there’s enough at stake here on a Grand Final without any of those other little bits and pieces. We just know that we got well beat on that day. They were too good for us, they were too hot for us on that day in credit to them.”
Both teams come into Saturday’s game off the back of brilliant regular seasons, which saw them finish first and second respectively.
McNamara highlighted that both teams deserve their places in the showpiece event, saying: “it’s great sometimes to get a team that comes outside of the top two and comes with a great run of form and probably deserve to be there at that stage as well; but I think this year the level of consistency from from ourselves, Wigan and obviously Saints, who just missed out on points difference from being in the top two. For me though, us and Wigan this year deserved to be the two teams playing.”
McNamara also expressed his excitement at the prospect of the two sides meeting at Old Trafford. “Yeah, excited, confident, ready,” he said. “It’s been a good season, a long season. I think the two best teams play in the final on Saturday night and I think that’s the way it should be.”
Whilst Catalans finished second in the league and had a home semi-final, they faced a really tough test against defending Champions St Helens. McNamara explained to Serious About Rugby League how that game has put them in a good position for the final this weekend: “Well it was certainly the best training session we could have had for this week in terms of that because you don’t train much the week of a Grand Final after a game like that.
He added: “A lot of the lessons you learn and a lot of the things you did and some of the things you didn’t do so well come from that game and you pick some things from that.
He was also quick to praise the Saints, saying: “While it was an hard game, credit to St Helens, I said that after the game for them to to fight as hard as that after winning four consecutive titles and for us only just to be able to get them at the end that’s a credit to their organization and something that I know we we would like to have that level of consistency for years to come.”
The moment of the St Helens came in the 79th minute, as Sam Tomkins crossed the whitewash to send Les Dracs to Old Trafford in his final home game for the club; and the Rugby League great will be his illustrious career to an end after the Grand Final on Saturday.
During the interview, McNamara spoke on how Tomkins found it easy to adjust to living in France and his personal desire to see him win silverware with the Dragons
“No, it was easy,” said McNamara. “He wanted to do it. He nearly never did it because if we’d have lost a million pound game it might not have happened.”
“We wanted him to be part of the club that won its first trophy; thankfully we did that before he arrived and won the Challenge Cup. The focus then became on being part of the team that wins the first ever Grand Final and we’ve not managed to achieve that so far. But we get another chance on Saturday night.
“What you see on the field is clearly what you see on the field but off the field in terms of how he is with everybody from the top of our organisation to the bottom is outstanding and I can’t see him leaving Southern France for a long, long time.”
With the club being based in the South of France, they face logistical challenges every week; however the club have made a huge effort to get fans over to Old Trafford for the Grand Final.
McNamara told Serious About Rugby League what the support from across the channel means to the playing group. “They sense it, they feel it, we get it every single day,” he said. “Our training sessions are open training sessions. The fans come and watch, they’re allowed to do that.”
He added: “We saw it last week. I mean, it’s a shame there wasn’t more people across there in France, first-hand, journalist-wise, to actually see and feel that atmosphere because it was special. So we understand the support that we get from our supporters is immense. We also understand the effort that they’re making and the sacrifice. It’s not cheap, it’s expensive for them to get across here and they’re making every effort that they possibly can. We need to get it done now, we need to win it and take it back.”
McNamara also spoke highly of the people working behind the scenes at the club, and what winning the Grand Final would do for the club as a whole not just the playing group.
“It’s more for the club,” he said. “When you’re a coach you get to stand in front of the media and talk to people like yourself and do all those bits but in reality, there’s a huge team of staff, support staff, rugby league staff that support the team that goes on the field.”
He added: “They’re the team behind the team and they have been outstanding to work with and then you get the extra team, another team behind that team which is your administration staff and when you’re a team like the Catalans that has to travel so much and so many logistics that are involved, the support of that team has been incredible as well so for me it’s about that, it generally is about that for our club because it’s not about any one person.”