There was to be no fairytale ending to Saturday’s Challenge Cup Final as St Helens finally overcame the plucky underdogs from Perpignan to claim back to back victories in the competition. However, there was much to be positive about as the game returned to its spiritual home, even if there is still much room to improve the experience.
For half an hour the game was a tight affair, the Catalans can consider themselves a little unlucky to see Jason Crocker’s touchdown chalked off by the video referee in what was an extremely tight call, but there was no doubt about the brilliance of James Roby’s opening try as the young hooker weaved his way through a mesmerised Dragons defence. To their credit the Catalans hit back almost immediately through Younes Khattabi and they could do little about the missed forward pass that gifted Saints winger Ade Gardner a try just before halftime and his team a slightly undeserved 12 – 4 lead going into the break.
In the second-half the power of the Saints pack and the speed of the backline took its toll on a Dragons outfit who started to wilt in the wide open spaces of the Wembley pitch. Saints fullback Paul Wellens put daylight between the two sides just after the break with an opportunist try capitalising on an error from opposite number Clint Greenshields. Youngster Paul Clough effectively ended the match as a contest ten minutes later, capping a strong run with a try.
To their credit the Catalans never gave up hope and when winger Justin Murphy pounced on an uncharacteristic error from Wellens to race away for a classic poachers try it was just reward for their efforts. Any fears of a collapse failed to materialise, although a second try from Gardner underlined the dominance of a St Helens side that ultimately never looked like losing the game.
The decision to jointly award the Lance Todd Trophy for the man of the match jointly to Paul Wellens and Leon Pryce, the first time such an award has been made, raised mant eyebrows. Whilst Wellens had a fine game, it was Saints standoff Pryce who had the single biggest impact on the proceedings, with a highly influential display in attack.
The new Wembley itself provided a magnificent venue for the eighty-four thousand plus crowd (it was noticeable that the empty seats were mainly confined to the Club Wembley areas), although the current absence of entertainment facilities in the area around the stadium compares it unfavourably with last year’s venue in Cardiff. It is to be hoped that planned redevelopment work will provide the surrounding environs will a more fitting location for the carnival atmosphere of the Challenge Cup.
Catalans Dragons: (4) 8
Tries: Khattabi, Murphy
St Helens: (12) 30
Tries: Roby, Gardner 2, Wellens, Clough
Goals: Long 5