In a world shrouded with uncertainty, perhaps we should have always relied on Super League to deliver an event which reminds us all of what life was like before Covid-19.
Once again in 2020, there will be no new winner of Super League, and once again, it is two sides who have more Grand Final appearances than any other who will do battle for the right to be crowned champions.
Wigan and St Helens are often not fond of being reminded of the things which unites two towns separated by just eight miles of Lancashire road, but rarely has that feeling of similarity been more prevalent than the two semi-finals which ultimately ensured their respective places in next Friday’s final in the unusual setting of Hull. On Thursday, Wigan were defensively brilliant and offensively clinical, keeping Hull try-less all evening and scoring a number of wonderful tries in response.
Here, St Helens were the same against a Catalans side who deserve credit for completing the domestic season – with this their 10th trip to England in less than four months – but whose hopes of a first final fell desperately short here, in part thanks to their own indiscipline. “It’s such a disappointing finish after a great effort from the club all season – but quite clearly, they’re the two best teams in the competition,” their coach, Steve McNamara, said.
James Maloney’s early penalty to put Catalans 2-0 ahead was all they could muster all evening. By half-time, they trailed 14-2 thanks to tries from Lachlan Coote and Kevin Naiqama, after repeated penalties sprung St Helens into attacking position time and time again. One of those, a high tackle on Regan Grace, saw Maloney sin-binned for 10 minutes, with Coote scoring the first try of the match moments later.
And when Naiqama extended that lead two minutes after half-time with his second, you felt even then, Catalans had no answer for what St Helens were throwing their way. “They were outstanding,” Kristian Woolf, the St Helens coach, said. “We’re going to enjoy this week, because it’s a great week, being involved in finals.” The prospect of being the first team to defend the title since Leeds in 2012 is now within reach, and it rarely felt in doubt that dream would be ended here.
Coote’s second, following a magnificent pass from Zeb Taia, was followed by a Jonny Lomax try and then a sin-binning for Ben Garcia which further opened the floodgates. Within two tackles, James Bentley had crossed from another well-worked move, before Naiqama’s hat-trick, a stunning length-of-the-field effort, was replicated by Grace, as Catalans could simply do nothing but watch the Wales international race away and underline the gulf in class between the sides.
It means that, like Sean O’Loughlin, James Graham will get the chance to end his career with another Super League title: though he will have to pass concussion protocol in the week after failing a head test in the first half here.
The subplots are fascinating, and the prospect of one of the great Grand Finals is now a distinct possibility after watching, as McNamara rightly said, the two best teams in the competition book their place in the final.
Three weeks ago, St Helens and Wigan delivered one of the finest games in recent years in a season that, at one stage, did not look as though it would be completed at all. On that night, it was Wigan who emerged victorious – but if the rematch is even half as good as that next Friday, we are in for one hell of a climax to 2020.
St Helens Coote; Makinson, Naiqama, Welsby, Grace; Lomax, Fages; Walmsley, Roby, Graham, Taia, Bentley, Knowles Interchange Peyroux, McCarthy-Scarsbrook, Lees, Amor Tries Coote 2, Naiqama 3, Lomax, Bentley, Grace Goals Coote 8
Catalans Tomkins; Mead, Langi, Folau, Davies; Maloney, Drinkwater; Bousquet, Da Costa, Moa, Whitley, Garcia, Casty Interchange Simon, Seguier, Baitieri, Kasiano Goals Maloney Referee L Moore