Catalans Dragons 10 St Helens 12: Saints hold their nerve to deliver third title in a row

Champions St Helens secured the “three-peat” they so desperately desired but only after being pushed all the way by newcomers Catalans Dragons in a fitting end to the 2021 Betfred Super League season.

St Helens Kevin Naiqama goes in for a try. (WILL PALMER/SWPIX)

Catalans, who had finished top for the first time this year, looked like securing their maiden title in their first appearance at Old Trafford after leading when heading into the final quarter of a pulsating Grand Final.

However, unlike Steve McNamara’s side, Saints have been here so many times before and, in a record-equalling eighth success, dug deep into their memory reserves to rally and find the points required to seal a third successive title.

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Kevin Naiqama, the Fiji centre who now heads home to Australia, scored the crucial try in the 66th minute, his second of the night, latching onto Jonny Lomax’s pinpoint grubber and also sealing himself the Harry Sunderland Trophy as man-of-the-match.

Lachlan Coote still had to hold his nerve for the conversion but the reliable Australian full-back, who signed off with a third winners’ ring before leaving for Hull KR, does not miss those sorts of opportunities.

Catalans had chances to claw back the narrowest of deficits but Josh Drinkwater aimed an awful pass to Sam Tomkins as they looked to strike from a hard-earned drop-out and then Tom Davies spilled a simple kick into touch near his own line.

As the French side threw everything at Saints in the final minute, the newly-appointed Man of Steel Tomkins was twice nailed, firstly by Mark Percival and then by Tommy Makinson, to end any hopes of a Catalan success.

It was a tense and high quality Grand Final, unfortunately played in front of an historic low attendance of 45,177 although that was perhaps understandable given French difficulties travelling.

St Helens' Tommy Makinson catchesd Fouad Yaha high and receives the first ever yellow card in Super League Grand Final history. (ALLAN MCKENZIE/SWPIX)

Defences were very much on top but Saints showed their class in the end.

And so it remains that no side has won on their first visit to Old Trafford since St Helens as long ago as 1999, Catalans falling just as Leeds Rhinos, Bradford Bulls, Hull FC, Warrington Wolves, Castleford Tigers and Salford Red Devils all did before them.

You sense they will be back though; they are too good a side for this appearance to be a flash in a pan.

They looked to have taken charge of an absorbing affair when more history was made, Makinson becoming the first player to be sin-binned in Super League Grand Final history in the 46th minute.

St Helens' Lachlan Coote (WILL PALMER/SWPIX)

With his side narrowly 6-4 ahead, the England winger was yellow-carded for a high tackle on Fouad Yaha after the Catalans winger had collected Drinkwater’s chip to the left.

Yaha seemed certain to score: how it was not deemed a penalty try only the officials will know.

Nevertheless, when Saints were down to 12 men, and after Drinkwater stepped up with a 40/20, McNamara’s side did cross for their first try of the evening.

Drinkwater, the Australian former Hull KR scrum-half, once more showed his kicking prowess with a lovely chip to the right side this time, Davies rising to palm it down for Mike McMeeken to pounce.

St Helens captain James Roby lifts the Super League trophy (ED SYKES/SWPIX)

McMeeken, the big second-row who has excelled since joining from Castleford Tigers, touched down for this tenth try of the year and James Maloney nailed the conversion to put Catalan 10-6 ahead.

But it would not be enough, Joe Batchelor threatening them initially with a break before Naiqama struck.

That said, Saints were lucky not to have had a player sent off in the opening minutes when Sione Mata’utia punched James Maloney during a fracas in back-play.

No officials seemed to have seen the incident as the Australians came together, Maloney admittedly leading with a forearm into Mata’utia’s neck as they grappled off the ball.

Naiqama almost got Makinson in for an early try but Drinkwater got across to deny him and Catalans had no territory until Maloney charged down a kick to finally get in Saints’ half with the ball.

They gained an instant penalty for offside which Maloney kicked but Naiqama got his opener off Coote’s lovely pass in the 13th minute.

Catalans Dragons' Mike McMeeken scores his try (ALLAN MCKENZIE/SWPIX)

Coote added a penalty after Ben Garcia’s high shot on a stepping Lomax before Catalans applied some pressure of their own.

Maloney kicked a penalty but they had no real try-scoring chances aside from when Morgan Knowles got across to snuff out Yaha.