Super League Season Review 2021: Catalans Dragons

We were not expecting 2021 to be a particularly special season for Catalans Dragons when we previewed their campaign at the beginning of the year.

“There is a considerable degree of uncertainty for the Dragons in 2021,” we wrote ahead of the season’s start.

“Last year they played just 13 Super League games because of the Covid pandemic and they will be hoping that as the season gets underway the threat to matches from that source will have declined substantially.
“They will also be playing under a new captain, Benjamin Garcia, in 2021, with the uncertainty that entails.

“And there is still some uncertainty about the future of Israel Folau, who may yet to return from Australia to fulfil the remaining year on his contract, however unlikely that may look.

“In the circumstances the Dragons will probably have the lower reaches of the six play-off positions as the best possible aim for 2021.”

How wrong we were! Instead it turned out to a momentous season for the Perpignan club, winning the League Leaders’ Shield and reaching the Grand Final, both for the first time, before falling at the final hurdle to St Helens in the pursuit of the last honour still to elude them.

Five things we learned from the Dragons’ season

1 Catalans can be consistent after all. For so many years it has seemed that, for all their quality, putting a run together across a whole season was an impossible job for the Frenchmen, especially achieving the same performances away from home as at Stade Gilbert Brutus. But this was the year it finally happened under the expert coaching of Steve McNamara, as they won 19 of their 23 regular-season Super League matches – 19 of 21 before losing the last two when top spot was in the bag – losing just a couple of games each home and away.

2 Catalans achieved that consistency by also being Super League’s most thrilling team. They scored a full 100 points more than any other team, crossing for 112 tries at almost five per match. Only Leeds made more clean breaks as they swept through numerous sides, with wingers Fouad Yaha and Tom Davies both among the division’s leaders in that regard as well as scoring 14 tries apiece. The threats came from everywhere, and did so frequently, making the Dragons quite often irresistible.

3 They may have fallen at the last, but Catalans can win Super League and you wouldn’t bet against them doing so soon. Saints remain the standard-bearers but not only were the Dragons more consistent than them over the year, they also beat them twice in the regular season including a Magic Weekend thriller, and there was almost nothing between them in the Grand Final. Only the very finest of margins settled it and they’ll surely be back.

4 The class of Sam Tomkins is permanent. The fullback secured the Man of Steel award for the second time, nine years after picking up the gong while a Wigan player. His career hasn’t always been smooth but he has unquestionably been one of the top English talents of his generation and the move to Catalans has brought the very best out of him, to the obvious benefit of his club.

5 This has been an exceptional year not just for Catalans but all of French Rugby League, with their success mirrored by that of Toulouse Olympique in reaching Super League for the first time. The success of the Dragons in reaching major finals and winning silverware in recent years has a wider impact on the strength of the game south of the Channel, and for that reason their rude health is good news for all.

Finishing position

The Dragons finished in first place in the final table, recording 19 wins and four defeats in their 23 matches with a winning record of 82.61%. They scored 688 points and conceded 398, for an average scoreline of 30-17.

Best result

What could possibly beat Magic Weekend? Four minutes to play, 30-12 down, against the defending champions, and Catalans pulled off one of the most remarkable comebacks not just in their history but all of Rugby League history on Saturday 4th September. Dean Whare, Gil Dudson and Sam Kasiano got the tries, all converted by James Maloney to force extra time before Maloney struck the winning field goal as well. To cap it all off, the result secured their first League Leaders’ Shield.

Worst result

Before the Grand Final ended in heartbreak, the only real downside to Catalans’ storming season was the end of the regular season, as they prepared for the play-offs with two straight defeats. The first of those came the week after the crazy events in Newcastle, as they brought the Shield back to Perpignan on Saturday 11th September but fell to a poor defeat to Huddersfield Giants, contriving to turn an 18-0 lead into a 30-18 loss.

Best player

Sam Tomkins was the star of the Super League season and claimed the Man of Steel award for the second time in his career as a result. Only team-mate Josh Drinkwater contributed to more Super League tries than Tomkins, who scored ten and assisted a further 20, just the tip of the iceberg in terms of his contribution to Catalans in both attack and defence.

Best young player

It was a fine breakthrough season for Arthur Mourgue, who shone wherever he played in the spine of the Catalans team despite often being an interchange option. Five tries and six assists in his 21 appearances were complemented by a great running threat from the back that suggests he will be a great fullback for years to come, even if the recently capped French international has to bide his time behind a certain Tomkins.

Best overseas player

Halfback James Maloney brought his career as a full-time player to a close with one of his finest achievements. The World Cup and two-time NRL winner, in tandem with fellow Australian Drinkwater, orchestrated the most successful season in the Dragons’ history. He will remain in France with Lezignan next year, but will be fondly remembered there for a long time to come.

Try of the year

Catalans beat Leeds two weeks running in July, and the second match in Perpignan was capped by a superb team try in the second half. Dean Whare kept the ball alive from the floor by finding Arthur Mourgue, whose own hopeful offload fell into the hands of Mike McMeeken. He used his 6’5″ frame to hold the ball one-handed in the air beyond the reach of Harry Newman, like a parent keeping a confiscated toy from their child, and release Tom Davies to finish.

Quote of the year

“This is not the last step for the Dragons, this is the next step and we have got to keep taking these steps forward.

“It has opened up a brand new market, it has exposed the game to new opportunities.

“We had TV cameras here at Old Trafford from Barcelona and from Paris. All of the national newspapers in France are covering our story and it has opened a lot of people’s eyes to what can be achieved in Rugby League if we give teams the opportunity.”

Even shortly after a gut-wrenching defeat in the Grand Final, Catalans head coach Steve McNamara was able to recognise the significance of what his team had achieved over the course of the season and the impact it had made back home.

Image of the year

The Dragons parading the League Leaders’ Shield in front of their supporters at the Stade Gilbert Brutus following their match against Huddersfield, a week after claiming that piece of silverware for the first time.

Defining moment

The season will be defined by the surreal 30 minutes at Magic Weekend that provided what will go down as one of the most memorable events in Super League history. The Dean Whare dive that could surely only be a consolation. The Arthur Mourgue spin and hand-off for Gil Dudson that made things interesting. The clock going red, Josh Drinkwater kicking to the heavens and Sam Kasiano, somehow, emerging above all to level. The lengthy injury stoppage for Samisoni Langi that put the tension off the charts. Then James Maloney kicking the lowest, scruffiest yet most beautiful drop goal to end it all.

The above content is also available in the regular weekly edition of League Express, on newsstands every Monday in the UK and as a digital download. Click here for more details.