Catalans fought back late on to send the top-of-the-table clash to golden point extra-time, with stand-off James Maloney kicking the crucial one-pointer to seal the League Leaders’ Shield
By Marc Bazeley at St James’ Park
Last Updated: 04/09/21 8:16pm
James Maloney’s drop goal in golden point extra-time completed an epic comeback from Catalans Dragons as they beat St Helens 31-30 to claim Super League’s Leaders’ Shield for the first time at Magic Weekend.
An acrobatic effort from Tommy Makinson, plus tries from Lachlan Coote and Sione Mata’utia helped Saints into an 18-6 lead at half-time after Sam Tomkins had put the Dragons ahead inside three minutes, in a half which also saw both teams have a man sent to the sin-bin.
Mata’utia’s second and another from Morgan Knowles looked to have clinched victory for St Helens, but late converted tries from Dean Whare and Gil Dudson pulled the Dragons from 30-12 down to within touching distance before Sam Kasiano’s try and Maloney’s conversion sent the match to golden point.
And after both Tommy Makinson and Lachlan Coote had missed drop-goal attempts, former Australia international Maloney nailed the game-winning one-pointer in the second period of extra-time to seal a historic success for the French club.
Tomkins gave Catalans the perfect start as they capitalised on gaining good field position following Lachlan Coote’s knock-on while contesting a high ball, with the full-back taking a pass from Josh Drinkwater, selling Kevin Naiqama a dummy and then dancing his way through to finish.
James Maloney kicked the conversion and the Dragons found themselves with the numerical advantage four minutes later as Mark Percival was sent to the sin-bin for a high tackle on fellow England international Tomkins.
But despite being temporarily a man down, second-placed Saints hit back in the 13th minute after Coote was hit late off the ball. The Scotland international then got up from that to lay on the pass for Makinson to produce a trademark leap over the try-line wide on the right for an unconverted score.
The reigning champions really started to motor when Percival returned to the field too and went ahead midway through the first half as some neat interplay between the centre and Coote set the latter up for their second try, which the Hull Kingston Rovers-bound No. 1 also converted.
Saints then had to survive a significant spell of pressure from the Dragons as the French side slowly built on the back of repeat sets inside their opponents’ 20-metre zone, a spell which only ended when Percival came up with an interception.
Then, on 35 minutes, a grubber kick from teenage half-back Lewis Dodd led to a knock-on in defence by Catalans, and on the back of that St Helens moved further ahead when Jack Welsby sent second row Mata’utia rampaging through for another converted try.
Three minutes later it was the Dragons’ turn to have a man sent to the sin-bin as Sam Kasino was shown a yellow card for contact to the head of James Bentley in a tackle, while James Maloney was arguably fortunate not to concede a penalty try for a shoulder charge on Joe Batchelor under the posts.
Instead, referee Liam Moore opted only to award a penalty, which Coote kicked to put St Helens into a 12-point lead at the break, but it was just seven minutes into the second half before they were in again.
Once again it was the Welsby-Mata’utia combination which undid the league leaders, with last year’s Grand Final hero sending the former Australia and Samoa international racing through to grab his second try of the afternoon, with Coote adding the extras.
Catalans gave themselves a glimmer of hope in the 57th minute when Julian Bousquet rumbled over under the posts following a deft offload from fellow front row Kasiano for a try converted by Maloney.
But a break from Percival put Saints in prime position to strike again and they did so with 11 minutes to go as loose forward Knowles forced his way over from close range under the posts for their fifth try of the evening.
However, Catalans were not done yet and when New Zealand international Whare went over with three minutes to go it sparked an improbable revival from Steve McNamara’s side, who pulled to within six points in the 79th minute after Dudson powered over from Arthur Mourgue’s offload.
The Dragons surged forward from the restart and, just as the full-time hooter sounded, Mourgue put in a pinpoint kick which Kasino grabbed out of the air and scored from, with Maloney nailing the conversion to send the match into extra-time.
The tension was palpable and Makinson shanked the first attempt either side had at drop goal in golden point, with play then being held up for a lengthy period while Samisoni Langi was treated before being stretchered off following a dangerous tackle from Agnatius Paasi which saw him sin-binned.
Coote then put another drop-goal attempt wide in the second period of extra-time, but when Maloney, who retires at the end of this season, had the opportunity he made no mistake and slotted over the one-pointer from an angle to seal a memorable triumph for the Dragons.