Upfront: The League Express opinion – Mon 4th Oct 21
Those were the days my friend, we thought they’d never end, we won the league three times in a row…
No matter what the sport, a hat-trick of titles takes some doing, and as coach Kristian Woolf has said, St Helens are within one win of achieving something special.
But so are Catalans Dragons as they plan for a maiden Grand Final appearance at Old Trafford on Saturday, 21 years after their formation through the merger of Perpignan sides XIII Catalan and AS Saint Esteve and 15 since their introduction to Super League.
The Dragons’ progress has been steady but solid, picking up pace under the guidance of Steve McNamara, the former Bradford Bulls and England coach and Sydney Roosters and New Zealand Warriors assistant who succeeded Laurent Frayssinous in June 2017.
The Challenge Cup was won the season after, and the League Leaders’ Shield this year.
Now Catalans, the ninth different club to reach the Super League Grand Final since Wigan Warriors and Leeds Rhinos contested the first in 1998, aim to become only the fifth to win it after St Helens, Leeds, Wigan and Bradford.
There’s no doubting the interest created over in France, with national newspapers paying attention and 11,530 turning out for the play-off semi-final win over Hull KR at the Stade Gilbert Brutus.
That will be ramped up even more should McNamara’s side prevail in what has all the ingredients to be an absorbing and entertaining showdown between the competition’s two most successful sides this season.
The same is true of Sunday’s Million Pound Game, which pits another French side, Toulouse Olympique, and Featherstone Rovers against each other at the Stade Ernest Wallon, both aiming to make Super League for the first time.
Rovers have been at this stage before, as recently as 2019, in fact, when they were beaten by Toronto Wolfpack.
They were 36-12 winners at Toulouse en route to Canada, but will have to topple a team who have a 100 percent record so far this season, and who have home advantage, if they are to be dining at the top table for the first time since the 1994/95 season.
While Featherstone have a rich history and have worked hard to develop their ground and make themselves as ‘Super League ready’ as possible, there’s no doubting the credentials of Toulouse, who along with Villeneuve Leopards, applied the top-flight place that the Catalans were awarded for the 2006 season.
As with Rovers, top-flight status is now within touching distance, and another intriguing Anglo-French encounter in on the cards.
Sunday also brings the meeting of League 1 rivals Workington Town and Doncaster for the right to join Barrow Raiders in promotion to the second tier, and League Express will have top coverage of all three finals.
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