The world is a very different place from the last time a Super League game was played – but some things in rugby league, it seems, have not changed at all over the past 20 weeks. This was somewhat of a saunter back into the domestic season for the reigning Super League champions and, while St Helens were as eye-catching as ever, how they were given a helping hand here.
Catalans have been the competition’s Jekyll and Hyde side for years. So often dominant in the south of France, they mirror that with the kind of inconsistent form in England that would give any coach nightmares. This, unfortunately for them, was a reminder of how offbeat they can be on this side of the Channel, as they restarted the 2020 campaign with a whimper.
By the time they had troubled the scorers, in the 61st minute, not only were they well-beaten, trailing 28-0 prior to James Maloney’s try, but the actions of their controversial signing had threatened to grab the headlines again.
Make no mistake about it, Israel Folau is not the only sportsman to decide against taking a knee. Earlier on Sunday, several Formula 1 drivers did the same at Silverstone – and it is certainly not a mandatory gesture – but the sight of the controversial Australian standing alone while the other 33 players on the field did the opposite was an unwanted image for the competition.
St Helens certainly did their best to put on a show though, 140 days on from the last Super League action. That day they were below-par and well-beaten at Castleford, but here they lived up to their billing as defending champions with a performance that had all the hallmarks of a side who have not missed a beat during the game’s four-month hiatus.
By half-time they were 16-0 ahead thanks to three magnificent tries, and given how they had been so outplayed, Catalans would have been grateful they still had any semblance of a chance of fighting back. Those hopes were firmly extinguished in the minutes after the restart though, with Kristian Woolf’s side simply too strong, too skilful and too good for their opponents.
Almost all St Helens’ six tries were of supreme quality. Their first, a wonderful combination between Zeb Taia and Lachlan Coote that sent the latter over unchallenged, was a reminder of just how creative the reigning champions can be, before Coote’s grubber was grounded by James Bentley to make it 10-0 shortly afterwards.
The Dragons were struggling to adjust to the new “six again” ruling, while the Saints coped with the extra injection of pace that the law change has enabled far better than their opponents. It was therefore no surprise when they extended their lead before half-time, Taia latching onto Jonny Lomax’s superb flat pass.
Catalans had to score first in the second half to stand any chance. Within seconds though, their paper-thin defence had been breached again, and while they scrambled to survive this time, they were soon opened up again as a wonderful team move culminated in Coote crossing for his second.
Maloney at least spared the Dragons the ignominy of being nilled, but his consolation was sandwiched either side of two scores that underlined the difference between the sides. First, Tommy Makinson strode through some timid defending to touch down, before Alex Walmsley did the same in the final moments.
St Helens Coote; Makinson, Naiqama, Percival, Grace; Lomax, Fages; Walmsley, Roby, Graham, Taia, Bentley, Knowles. Interchange McCarthy-Scarsbrook, Amor, Batchelor, Smith.
Tries Coote 2, Bentley, Taia, Makinson, Walmsley. Goals Coote 5.
Catalans Dragons Mourgue; Davies, Langi, Folau, Yaha; Maloney, Drinkwater; Casty, McIlorum, Bousquet, Whitley, Tomkins, Garcia. Interchange Moa, Da Costa, Baitieri, Kasiano.
Try Maloney. Goal Maloney.
Referee B Thaler.