Saints suffer narrow loss away at Catalans

St.Helens were just edged out to a 14-8 loss away at Catalans Dragons in an early season top-of-the-table clash.

A bruising battle in the South of France saw the hosting Dragons team just get the better of the Saints on a late Saturday night Betfred Super League clash in Round Seven. Catalans Matt Ikuvalu scored the try to give the Perpignan side the lead, which was extended by two more points by an Arthur Morgue penalty.

Paul Wellens announced his squad with the main news being Sione Mata’utia moving into the centres following Mark Percival’s failed HIA last week, James Bell and George Delaney returning to the matchday fold, the latter of which starting in place of the suspended Matty Lees.

Through a plume of red and yellow smoke, the teams made their way to the field and the hosts kicked off the evening. The opening defensive sets off both sides were markers of intent for a real physical battle, Catalans did well to keep Saints pinned inside their own half.

Dragons off an error around five minutes in got the first real chance of the match, a dive into the corner for Tom Johnstone needed to be checked by the video ref, but Konrad Hurrell did enough to keep him from scoring and forcing Johnstone to lose the ball as he sought to score.

10 minutes in St.Helens got their first chance to attack in the opposition’s half, great drives from Curtis Sironen and George Delaney moved us close but a rogue pass for Sione Mata’utia was knocked on.

The Saints were now controlling more of the territory and got the ball out to Makinson in our own half, he found space and kicked inside for a chase but the bounce was not kind. Welsby leapt on it, and passed to Hurrell with some chaotic second-phase rugby. A short Lewis Dodd kick was followed strongly by Welsby and forced a goal line drop out. Calmly working it back to the hosts line, Mata’utia thought he unlocked his outside wingman Jon Bennison but he had a foot in touch as he went.

Coming away from their line, Catalans knocked on the ball and the Saints kept the pressure on. From the scrum, Jack Welsby had a lot of space on the left edge and he went in for the opening points of the evening, 18 minutes in. Captain Jonny Lomax on kicking duties pulled the kick across the posts from near the sidelines, 0-4.

Following the try, the Dragons wrestled some control back in their favour, challenging again in our red zone but Saints did well to keep them out. Errors for both sides began creeping in, as changes on the field began to be made too, James Bell on for Alex Walmsley just before the half hour mark.

St.Helens were left to rue the errors which welcomed Catalans again, a short Alrix Da Costa pass to Mike McMeeken near the line saw him power his way over the try line and under the posts for their first points of the match. Arthur Morgue made no error with the kick to give the hosts the lead 6-4, with eight minutes left in the opening period.

Wellens’ men were on the hunt for more points, but penalties kept cutting them down. In the dying minutes of the half, the ball was worked right to Tommy Makinson, Hurrell with a smart offload, and the experienced winger kept moving and rolling and got over the line for a big four-pointer before the break. Lomax again from the sidelines could not add the conversion, making it 6-8 at the break.

More of that bruising physicality was demonstrated at the start of the second forty, Hurrell smarted from a big hit but shook it off and on drove a big carry forward to create the first chance. A Dodd kick lofted high bounced and Joe Batchelor came inches away from the line.

A slight worry then followed as Johnstone for Catalans copped a head clash with a fellow teammate and stayed immediately down. He didn’t need helping off the field which was a good sign, five minutes into the half.

Off a six-again on the last gifted Saints another chance as James Bell, who was growing into the game, took on the line and threw a late pass to a supporting Jake Wingfield, he then fed Lewis Dodd who went over the line. Liam Moore the referee sent it to the video ref as a try, after a lengthy check the try was not given, a remarkable Arthur Morgue tackle stopped Dodd and held him up.

The Dragons then once again begin winning the arm wrestle of this physical battle, Lomax went looking to hunt through a gap and copped a high shot but was dipping in his run and nothing was given. Daryl Clark appeared to also hold his ribs after a strong tackle in the middle and Moses Mbye entered the fray.

The completion rates began taking a hit on the approach to the hour mark, for both sides. Saints were looking to finally make some territory after that initial bit at the start of the half. Big drives as Walmsley stepped back into the field of play set up Dodd to kick a short one for Sironen to chase but he didn’t get to the ball.

Morgan Knowles was also back on as Saints needed to firm up on defence, and after Saints pinned Catalans inside their own half Jon Bennison had to deal with a swirling bomb but knocked on. Dragons forced the ball to their right and passed straight out, but the pressure would not stop. A long pass could not be taken clean by Lomax who also knocked on. Finally, the hosts made all their territory again pay, Matt Ikuvalu on the left cut back inside and went in. A video ref check was called upon, Curtis Sironen looked to be impeded from making a tackle but the try was given. Morgue added the kick for the Dragons to make it 12-8 off the posts with 15 minutes left in the piece.

Catalans looked to shut up shop early, keeping the play in the middle channel and then lock us in our own half. Da Costa after a high ball was patted back placed a kick to the in-goal and Hurrell had to take it for a goal line drop out. Bennison put in a great shot on his opposite man and we kept the hosts out this time but again needing to come from deep in our own half.

Welsby and Dodd on the last by our own 40m linked up to create some space, Welsby got away an offload and out to Mbye and the right-edge. Hurrell chipped in and we stopped Tom Davies by his own line, seven minutes remained.

Tempers flared up after McMeeken pushed Delaney in the face, the penalty was given against Saints though and the hosts called for the two to eat into the clock. Morgue in the middle and just beyond the 40m line made it 14-8 with four and half minutes to go.

Saints went for the short restart and got the ball back, pushing the Dragons back to their own line once more but still they held us out. Chances were looking to be made from spreading the ball wide but the Dragons continued to shut up shop.

Catalans looked to knock on as well in the final minute, but the referee judged Welsby was offside and that would be the final major action of the game.

A narrow loss for the Saints in France in a physical battle against an in-your-face Catalans Dragons team.

Match Summary

Catalans Dragons team: Arthur Morgue, Tom Davies, Matt Ikuvalu, Arthut Romano, Tom Johnstone, Jordan Abdull, Theo Fages, Mike McMeeken, Alrix Da Costa, Romain Navarrete, Tariq Sims, Paul Seguier, Benjamin Garcia

Interchanges: Matthieu Laguerre, Cesar Rouge, Chris Satae, Franck Maria

18th player: Loan Castano

Tries: McMeeken (31), Ikuvalu (63)

Conversions: Morgue 2/2

Penalties: Morgue 1/1

St.Helens team: Jack Welsby, Tommy Makinson, Konrad Hurrell, Sione Mata’utia, Jon Bennison, Jonny Lomax, Lewis Dodd, Alex Walmsley, Daryl Clark, George Delaney, Matt Whitley, Curtis Sironen, Morgan Knowles

Interchanges: Joe Batchelor, Moses Mbye, James Bell, Jake Wingfield

18th player: Ben Davies

Tries: Welsby (19), Makinson (38)

Conversions: Lomax 0/2

HT: 6-8 / FT: 14-8

Attendance: TBC

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