Gareth Ellis: My old team-mate Steve McNamara always had a plan for success at Catalans

I am really pleased for Steve McNamara after that terrific win against St Helens saw Catalans Dragons through to the Ladbrokes Challenge Cup final.

Steve McNamara.
Steve McNamara.

I’ve known Steve a long time now having played alongside him when I was just a teenager at Wakefield Trinity and he arrived from Bradford Bulls.

He was quite influential back then – even while still being a player – on us as a team bringing a lot of professionalism while personally he definitely guided me in certain areas and helped me out.

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We had time together at England, too, first with him as an assistant and then as head coach, so I’ve had a lot to do with him over the years so I am delighted to see him now take a side to Wembley.

It has been some turnaround for Catalans – beating the Super League leaders so emphatically (35-16) to get to only their second Challenge Cup final – considering they were bottom earlier in the year.

But Steve always had a plan in place.

We played them with Hull a few weeks ago and he spoke then about how it was always going to be a tough start to their year.

The amount of players they had away on World Cup duty – more than any other team – meant they didn’t get that foundation in place with a proper pre-season.

They had a poor start – two wins from 11 and I don’t think that was in the script – but he has certainly turned it around.

In fact, I mentioned to someone the other day how I thought Catalans had a real chance against Saints, even though they were massive underdogs, given the way they’ve played in recent weeks and that transformation they’ve had under Steve.

To be fair, though, I don’t think anyone actually saw them leading 27-0 at half-time.

But it did all culminate in that performance yesterday – a real powerful, committed and impressive display in which they managed to do a real number on a Saints side who have been so red-hot this year.

For Saints this loss could now work two ways; they had their eye on all three trophies – the treble.

The disappointment of losing that semi might see them refocus a little bit to really now go for that Grand Final.

There’ll have no distractions (like Warrington and Catalans do), but the other side of it is that this defeat will give other sides some hope that they are fallible.

Let’s not forget Saints have been terrific this year; they’ve been pretty untouchable, playing some really good rugby, finding a way to win regularly and looking the favourites for the lot.

Now they’ll be concentrating on Old Trafford and it’ll be interesting to see what happens.

Key for Catalans has been that they’ve made two great signings; getting Josh Drinkwater, at half, has been a key moment and Kenny Edwards on the edge brings something to it all as well.

It’s all come too late for them in Super League, but they will be just looking at Wembley – and if they recreate that performance of yesterday they can beat Warrington Wolves or anyone.

As for Leeds Rhinos there was a lot of hope from them that they’d rise to the occasion against Warrington like they have done so many times before.

They so often come out with the big-game mentality and win on the night against the odds.

But I’m not sure if they have that anymore.

Kev (Sinfield) said as much after the game yesterday – he doesn’t feel like that team is ready for those sort of big games yet. That was really plain to see.

Warrington are a lot further ahead in where they’re at. I’m sure Kev will be putting big changes in place to rekindle that former glory and I do still think they’ll be fine in the Qualifiers although if they did lose against Toulouse on Saturday it could get a little tasty.

If Leeds can get that first win straight up it will settle some nerves and that’s key now.

I do think they have enough quality to be safe, though, and likewise Hull KR.