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Dragons will never forget historic Wembley win

PUBLISHED: 11:41 27 August 2018

Catalan Dragons' Julian Bousquet (left), Josh Drinkwater (centre) and Mickael Simon celebrate after the Ladbrokes Challenge Cup Final at Wembley Stadium, London (pic Adam Davy/PA)

Catalan Dragons' Julian Bousquet (left), Josh Drinkwater (centre) and Mickael Simon celebrate after the Ladbrokes Challenge Cup Final at Wembley Stadium, London (pic Adam Davy/PA)

PA Wire/PA Images

The Catalans Dragons’ victory over the Warrington Wolves in the Ladbrokes Challenge Cup Final at Wembley Stadium on Saturday inaccurately has been described as one of the biggest shocks in the history of the sport.

The French club came within seconds of possible relegation in the Qualifier 8s last season but, this time around, they have been very competitive and the way they dismantled St Helens in the semi-final made them many people’s favourites.

It is indisputable, however, that it was a landmark result as, for the first time in Challenge Cup’s history – dating back to 1896 – the trophy will be leaving these shores.

Coach Steve McNamara, whose last game at Wembley was England’s heart-breaking World Cup semi-final loss to New Zealand in 2013, joked: “I half-expected to see Sean Johnson come leaping out of the crowd as we were defending at the end,” referring to the Kiwi scrum-half who scored the game-winning try as time expired.

The Dragons never trailed in the game, taking the lead in the opening couple of minutes when Stefan Ratchford mishandled a high kick and, when the ball was spun out to the right Lewis Tierney touched down in the corner.

Tierney and the man who kicked four goals, Josh Drinkwater, have interesting stories.

A winger, Tierney’s father is Jason Robinson, a rugby legend in both codes, having won everything at Wigan RL, then the World Cup with England at Rugby Union.

Australia scrum-half Drinkwater is in his fourth season in England, and has suffered relegation with the hapless 2014 London Broncos, promotion with the 2016 Leigh Centurions, then relegation with them last season.

Drinkwater added a penalty before Warrington hit back with a try – on the back of a Catalans handling error by the Dragons – from Ben Murdoch-Masila, who had only been on the field a couple of minutes.

The Wolves then had a try controversially disallowed by the video referee and then suffered another blow when Benjamin Garcia was given a try on the same official’s call just before half-time.

Toby King cut the deficit with a try on 52 minutes, Tyron Roberts improving the score and adding a penalty too.

However, Brayden Wiliame went over for Catalans to leave Warrington needing a try to level matters.

There was more than enough time for the Wolves to draw level, but they played panic football for far too long and made mistakes when cooler heads might have made wiser decisions.

McNamara admitted: “Defence wins. The other team made errors, but they were forced errors by us. We didn’t play well in the last 20 minutes but we had the desire to keep that try-line safe.”

More importantly, McNamara talked about the faith he had in the team, what his hopes were and paid respect to the fans in the most southerly outpost in rugby league.

“I knew winning the Challenge Cup might be possible and we now also need to prove that we could one day challenge for a Grand Final [the Super League finale].

“I know just how much money has been spent by the fans trying to get across here. But also there were others back home who could not get across here because of the expense,

“We are not due back in the airport (in Perpignan) till one o’clock but we plan to party all night.”

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