St Helens 30 Catalans Dragons 8: Gardner double helps stuttering Saints douse the Dragons' fire

French side's bravery not enough to overhaul Challenge Cup holders. By Dave Hadfield at Wembley
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The Independent Online

The first French club to reach the final of the Challenge Cup were far from disgraced as the showpiece returned to its spiritual home, but they were put firmly in their place by the best Britain has to offer.

The Catalan resistance lasted for most of the first half before a brilliant solo try from James Roby set Saints on their way to retaining the trophy. Three more tries in the minutes on either side of half-time made the game as good as safe, although the French club continued to create chances. On the day, they were simply not quite good enough for a Saints side full of rugby nous.

The Dragons lined up without Casey McGuire, ruled out in midweek by his torn pectoral muscle, when they came out to traditional Wembley sunshine. They also emerged to the acclaim of most of the neutrals in the crowd; the combination of a Wigan shirt and a French beret was a popular fashion choice.

It was a combination of tidy approach work and a surprising number of penalties that gave the Catalans plenty of early possession. Sadly, they always found a way of squandering it.

When they had to defend, though, the Catalans did so with commendable determination. Both Matt Gidley and Maurie Fa'asavalu found themselves driven into touch by sheer weight of numbers.

After 24 minutes, the French side would have taken the lead, but for a skimpy in-goal area. Stacey Jones kicked past the posts, Croker out-jumped Leon Pryce, but ran out of space and lost control of the ball trying to force it down before the dead-ball line. Luke Quigley made a try-saving tackle on Pryce, who was also held up over the line. The looming possibility of a pointless first half at Wembley was about to be blown apart.

Saints' breakthrough came via their strength off the bench. Roby had just come into the game when he exploded out of dummy half with a run that had "destination – try-line" written all over it. Five defenders made contact with him, but none could stop him. In its way, it was one of the classic Wembley tries.

The Dragons responded immediately. Sean Long fumbled a ball on the ground and Jones and Adam Mogg opened the path for Younes Khattabi to score in the corner.

That would have been a reasonable half-time score for the Catalans, but Ade Gardner went over from Gidley's pass as the break approached. Five minutes into the second half, Long kicked through, seemed to be obstructed, but still saw Paul Wellens – who shared the Lance Todd Trophy as man of the match with Pryce – to reach the rolling ball for the try. Four minutes later, Clint Greenshields' tackle stopped Long, but Saints scored anyway when Pryce slipped the ball to Paul Clough.

There was nothing wrong with the Catalans' courage, as they showed when Justin Murphy took advantage of a mix-up to narrow the gap. But there was to be no late escape as Wellens' run and cultured pass gave Gardner Saints' fifth try.

The big game had come home, with only unoccupied Club Wembley seats stopping it being a sell-out.

St Helens: Wellens; Gardner, Gidley, Talau, Meli; Pryce, Long; Fozzard, Cunningham, Cayless, Gilmour, Bennett, Wilkin. Substitutes: Roby, Graham, Fa'asavalu, Clough.

Catalans Dragons: Greenshields; Murphy, Wilson, Raguin, Khattabi; Mogg, Jones; Chan, Quigley, Guisset, Croker, Gossard, Mounis. Substitutes: Casty, Ferriol, Duport, Bentley.

Referee: A Klein (Keighley).

What they said...

Daniel Anderson, the St Helens coach, will happily take the credit for the substitution that broke the deadlock at Wembley, even though he was merely following his usual routine.

The arrival of James Roby brought the game's first try within moments, and the Catalans never fully recovered. "I'd like to think it was inspired but he comes into the game at pretty much the same time every game," Anderson said. "It was a typical Roby try."

Roby himself called it the most important try of his short career so far. "The defenders fell off me so it was a bit of luck," he said.

The Catalans coach, Mick Potter, said the replacement hooker made the difference. "Roby was enormous. We did well early on but St Helens are a special team," he added.