Departing Fiji international Naiqama, who was also awarded the Harry Sunderland Trophy for man of the match, crossed twice as St Helens edged out Catalans to become only the second team to record three straight Super League Grand Final triumphs
By Marc Bazeley at Old Trafford
Last Updated: 09/10/21 8:31pm
Kevin Naiqama signed off his time with St Helens a Super League Grand Final hero as his two tries helped them defeat Catalans Dragons 12-10 at Old Trafford and seal three titles in a row.
Naiqama’s unconverted try and a penalty from Lachlan Coote had Saints holding a slender two-point lead at half-time, with James Maloney slotting over two penalties to keep the League Leaders’ Shield winners hanging onto their coattails.
The game was turned on its head early in the second half as a yellow card for Tommy Makinson and a converted try from Mike McMeeken put the Dragons ahead, but a second from Saints’ Fiji international centre, who now returns to Australia, and the conversion from Coote snatched victory.
The result saw Saints clinch their eighth Grand Final triumph and ninth Super League title overall, as well as matching the great Leeds Rhinos team of 2007 to 2009 by securing a third-successive win in the end-of-season decider.
It also dashed Catalans’ dreams – for this year, at least – of becoming the first overseas side to win the Grand Final after the regular season finished with the Perpignan-based outfit claiming an historic League Leaders’ Shield success.
As expected, Sam Tomkins made his return to the Catalans side at full-back from a knee injury, with Arthur Mourgue dropping to the bench after starting in the 28-10 semi-final win over a Hull Kingston Rovers on a memorable night in Perpignan nine days earlier.
Gil Dudson also returned to the starting line-up at prop in place of Tomkins’ brother Joel, who was named among the interchanges. St Helens, meanwhile, stuck with the same match-day 17 from their 36-8 semi-final win at home to Leeds Rhinos.
It was the reigning champions who were on top for the opening minutes, with centre Naiqama and winger Makinson both testing the Dragons’ defence as Saints repeatedly probed on their right side early on.
A sign of how high tensions were too came when Sione Mata’utia and James Maloney – joined by respective team-mates Morgan Knowles and Tomkins – were involved in a minor confrontation, but Catalans’ Australian stand-off shook that off to kick them ahead after 10 minutes.
It came on the back of the Dragons’ first real attack after Maloney charged down Lachlan Coote’s kick and regathered the ball, followed by the two-time NRL Grand Final winner slotting over a penalty from 35 metres out after St Helens had been pinged for offside.
The Saints fans in the Stretford End did not have to wait long to have something to cheer about though and once again it came from an attack down their right, with Coote releasing Naiqama to jink through the defence and finish for an unconverted try.
A high tackle from Catalans captain Benjamin Garcia on Jonny Lomax gifted Hull Kingston Rovers-bound full-back Coote the opportunity to add another two points for St Helens on 22 minutes, which he duly took.
A second penalty from Maloney four minutes later following Mark Percival coughing up possession and St Helens being penalised for offside just moments after they had earned a turnover in their own 20-metre zone kept the Dragons within touching distance.
It then needed some excellent defence from Catalans to prevent Saints increasing their lead before the break as they attacked down the left on the back of Sam Kasiano giving away a penalty for a high tackle, with Regan Grace being bundled into touch 10 metres out.
Six minutes into the second half though, St Helens found themselves on the back foot as Makinson became the first player to be sin-binned in a Super League Grand Final for taking out opposite number Fouad Yaha with a high tackle as the France international bore down on the try-line.
Jack Welsby’s interception from a wild offload by Garcia saw the eight-time Super League champions survive the immediate aftermath, but then Coote taking the ball into touch while trying to recover a kick from Josh Drinkwater put the Dragons in the ascendancy again.
And the French side took full advantage in the 51st minute as scrum-half Drinkwater dinked a kick to the right corner which Tom Davies managed to bat down for second row McMeeken to gather and finish from close range, followed by Maloney converting.
However, the Saints showed once again they should never be written off when back to 13 men and edged back in front with 14 minutes to go when Lomax slid a grubber kick in behind the Dragons defence which Naiqama chased down to finish, followed by Coote adding the extras.
The try-scorer was forced off for assessment of a head injury sustained while going over, but the 32-year-old’s night was capped by him received the Harry Sunderland Trophy for man of the match from Rob Burrow as his team-mates saw the match out for a memorable win.
By the end of the Super League Grand Final, Kevin Naiqama had two tries, a sore head and the player of the match trophy.
Steve McNamara said it was heart-breaking but a major step forward for Catalans after losing in the Grand Final.
Kristian Woolf described his team as special group after the Saints won their third Grand Final in a row