Vic­tory for Cata­lans should serve as cat­a­lyst for growth

Yorkshire Post - Sports Monday - - RUGBY LEAGUE - AT WEM­B­LEY Email: pe­ Twitter: @PeterSmithYEP Peter Smith

GE­O­GRAPH­I­CALLY, the Chal­lenge Cup’s new home could not be much far­ther away from where it has resided for the past two years, but its link with York­shire – and Hull in par­tic­u­lar – re­mains in­tact.

Though Satur­day’s fi­nal was the first since 2007 not to fea­ture a team from the White Rose, for the fifth suc­ces­sive year a York­shire­man mas­ter­minded Wem­b­ley vic­tory, Steve McNa­mara suc­ceed­ing Brian McDermott and Lee Rad­ford as the Chal­lenge Cup-win­ning coach.

All three were mem­bers of Brad­ford Bulls’ mighty pack around the turn of the cen­tury and like Rad­ford, McNa­mara is a proud son of Hull.

Whereas Rad­ford achieved Cup glory with his home­town club, McNa­mara had to go far­ther afield, fi­nally break­ing his Wem­b­ley hoodoo when Cata­lans Dragons held off War­ring­ton Wolves in a com­pelling fi­nal wor­thy of a far big­ger crowd than the 50,672 in at­ten­dance.

McNa­mara en­dured last-gasp agony at the same ground in 2013 when Eng­land lost a World Cup semi-fi­nal to New Zealand on the fi­nal play of the game. He was also a mem­ber of the Brad­ford team de­feated by St Helens at the old na­tional sta­dium 21 years ago and in the last 10 min­utes it seemed McNa­mara might once again be left bro­ken-hearted as War­ring­ton pressed for a con­verted try to send the game into sud­den­death ex­tra-time.

Even a few months ago the French out­fit would al­most cer­tainly have crum­bled, but af­ter a dif­fi­cult start to his reign McNa­mara has turned things around and, if not the most at­trac­tive side to watch, Cata­lans are cer­tainly a tough team to beat. Hav­ing won the mil­lion pound match at Leigh Cen­tu­ri­ons last year, to avoid rel­e­ga­tion, the Per­pig­nan-based side have climbed from the foot of the ta­ble to top-eight safety in Su­per League. Their vic­tory over War­ring­ton has made them the first club based out­side Eng­land to win the Chal­lenge Cup.

That is an his­toric achieve­ment which could take the sport on the other side of the Chan­nel to new heights, but on a per­sonal level it was vin­di­ca­tion for a coach who has had to over­come more than his fair share of dis­ap­point­ment and crit­i­cism.

Hav­ing been in charge of Brad­ford at the start of their spec­tac­u­lar de­cline his cre­den­tials have been ques­tioned at times, but McNa­mara’s im­pact on Cata­lans, aided by some smart re­cruit­ment, has been huge.

With a match-win­ner of Sam Tomkins’ qual­ity set to join them in 2019 the Per­pig­nan-based out­fit could be on the verge of some­thing spe­cial.

Tomkins will re­unite with his former Wigan Warriors team- mate Michael McIlo­rum at Cata­lans next year. Born in Leeds, McIlo­rum had a big say in the fi­nal, though full-back Tony Gigot was a de­served win­ner of the Lance Todd Tro­phy as man of the match.

Gigot has also gone from vil­lain to hero, hav­ing six months ago won an ap­peal against a two-year ban im­posed for an “in­ap­pro­pri­ate ex­change” with an anti-dop­ing of­fi­cial in 2016.

An­other un­ex­pected hero was sub­sti­tute for­ward Mick­ael Goude­mand, called into the side the day be­fore the game when Louis An­der­son failed a fit­ness test.

It was the 21-year-old’s sixth ap­pear­ance for Cata­lans and a year ago he was a guest at Wem­b­ley of his then club Dews­bury Rams.

War­ring­ton played their part, but left it too late af­ter trail­ing 20-6 early in the sec­ond half.

They will, how­ever, feel it might have been a dif­fer­ent story had ex-Hull winger Tom Line­ham’s first half touch­down not been ruled out by video ref­eree Ben Thaler for an al­leged ob­struc­tion.

They were 8-0 adrift at that stage to Lewis Tier­ney’s sec­ond­minute try and two Josh Drinkwa­ter goals. Ben Mur­doch-Masila pulled a try back, im­proved by Ty­rone Roberts, but con­verted touch­downs ei­ther side of the break, by Ben Gar­cia and Bray­den Wil­iame, gave them too much to do.

Hud­der­s­field-born Ge­orge King pulled a try back and Roberts added the con­ver­sion and a penalty, but Cata­lans were wor­thy vic­tors.

The chal­lenge for rugby league now is to use their vic­tory to broaden the sport’s ap­peal out­side its tra­di­tional heart­lands.

MAGIC MO­MENT: Cata­lans Dragons’ cap­tain Remi Casty and Greg Bird cel­e­brate with the fans af­ter their side de­feat­edWar­ring­ton Wolves in the Chal­lenge Cup fi­nal. PICTURES: SWPIX.COM

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