Catalans Away. Again.

Absolutely no better way to get over a heartbreak than a good holiday.

All the lads together, a nice bit of sunshine, a shit load of cheap beer, possibly a silly tattoo you’ll regret and copping off with scantily clad girls from Stoke outside a kebab shop.

We like to use silly analogies and that’s what we’ve come up with for the Catalans game.

After the Wembley heartbreak, Wire needed a good lads’ holiday and a day trip to the south of France did just the trick. It wasn’t the game we wanted to win most, but it was a nice pick-me-up and a reminder that things aren’t all that bad after all.

With Wigan and Hull both losing in the two days previous, Saturday’s victory sent us to the top of the table with three games left – two of them against the two aforementioned clubs also in the race for the league leaders’ shield.

It’s a bit of a nothing trophy really; we’re guaranteed a top four spot anyway, but it does seem to get more hyped up in recent years and the fixtures have landed so that the last game of the season could be a straight knock-out for the top spot.

Under a first-past-the-post system, it would have been a highly climactic finish to the season, but the reality is, it will just determine who each team plays in the semi-final.

That said, it would be nice to deny Hull at least one part of the treble they seem to think they have already won.

More importantly, what Saturday’s victory did was provide the perfect response to last week’s disappointment and set a marker down for the next month.

We went away to one of the toughest places in the league, with six regular first teamers missing, a team with an average age of 22 and – because we know some people in rugby league care about this so much – only one overseas player in the team, and grabbed a victory from the jaws of defeat.

We made fucking hard work of it, like, but these are the type of tight, hard-fought victories you need to grind out if you’re ever going to win a Grand Final.

And what a moment for Ben Currie, who went over for the winning try at the same time of the game in which he was denied so cruelly last week.

It further amplifies the tight margins at this level of sport – Catalans are no mugs at all; they will likely miss out on the top four, but only narrowly, and they should/could/would have made the top four but for their lack of discipline and consistency – and the gossamer thin difference between winning and losing.

With the intention of doing a professional job over the Dragons – in, win, out in a day – Tony Smith seemingly sent the youthful team out with the instructions to express themselves and show no fear.

With Patton starting at 7, Johnson at full back and Dwyer at 9 – with teenager Morgan Smith spelling with him off the bench – the team was lead around the park by the kindergarten pivots, giving Stefan Ratchford a truly senior role at 6 and he stepped up to the plate big time.

It was the combination of two of the babies of the team that led to the opening score – Toby King scooted from dummy half and burst through the Catalans’ defence with ease, drew the full back in and slipped a neat pass to the supporting Johnson who strolled in for a simple try.

Kevin Penny, whose scoot and quick play the ball allowed King the opportunity to make the break to set up the opening try, crossed for our second moments later.

Stefan Ratchford, displaying goal keeping skills that Neville Southall would’ve been proud of, caught Tony Gigot’s attempted grubber kick in flight and set off down field before releasing Kevin Penny who romped 70 metres and never looked like being caught.

Wire went into the break with an 18-0 lead thanks to arguably the try of the season. On our own 10 metre line on the last tackle after a big defensive set from Catalans, Stefan Ratchford (baby) evaded the kick pressure and exploited the space they left by spreading the ball to Toby King, who in turn slipped a well-timed pass to Penny to race down the wing.

The scrambling Catalans’ defence thought they had done enough when he turned the ball back inside to Ratchford, but he did brilliantly to offload to King despite the attentions of a Catalans defender and the young centre found Patton with a pinpoint pass and the scrum half went in under the sticks.

It really is one of those tries you would never get bored of watching and will surely be on the highlights reel for years to come.

Moreover – and again, we only include this because some people seem to really care about this – everyone involved in that play is English: in fact, other than Ratchford, they are all products of our academy system.

Then followed a period of play that sums up both teams perfectly.

Glen Stewart, moved to Six due to a pandemic lack of half backs in the whole of France, was nothing short of dreadful in the first half. Everything he touched turned to shite and he seemed to crumble under the responsibility of being the main playmaker.

After the break, however, he looked like a modern day Wally Lewis for a spell. He was involved in absolutely everything and, while he didn’t do much special, a lot of it was effective.

He was involved in their first try, which got them back in the game, finding Richie Myler from first receiver with a simple ‘X ball’, allowing the former Wire 7 the space to pop a flat pass to the on-rushing Vincent Duport who hit the gap well and barged over a couple of Wire defenders to touch down.

Myler then turned from try creator to try scorer, exploiting good field position and decoy runners to drop his shoulder near the Warrington line and dive over, clawing the Catalans back to within six points with less than 10 minutes of the second half played.

The game then got a bit spicy; the main protagonists, surprisingly enough, being Ryan Bailey and Eloi Pellisier, though other players both sides certainly joined in the fun.

The fiery French hooker cost his side the two points when they came to the HJ earlier in the year through his over-exuberance and he was up to his usual tricks again on Saturday. Pushing at the play-the-ball, diving over defenders around the ruck, milking penalties, all arms and elbows in tackles… you’ve got to love him. Well, you would if he was on your team. Until he does something stupid and gives away a penalty in a match-winning position.

His running battle with Bailey became an interesting sub-plot throughout the second half and, to be fair to Bailey, he stood up well when provoked and didn’t shy away from any work when making the hard yards.

It was a stupid late shoulder charge on Bailey – clearly a target for the Catalans’ pack – that gifted us two points from the boot of Dec Patton to just nudge us further ahead, but Warrington being Warrington tried their best to, well, do a Warrington.

Having withstood intense pressure on our line for the best part of the second half, a Ryan Atkins error when clearing our lines gifted them an easy score through that Yaha lad on the wing before a Tony Gigot penalty levelled the scores with ten to go.

Kevin Penny then spilled the ball on his own try line after doing well to take a high bomb. He was smashed into by a couple of defenders and Myler thought he had grounded the ball in the in-goal area but the video referee ruled it out.

Ashton Sims then inexplicably tried to throw a wild pass out the wing and found nobody and from the resulting field position, Catalans were awarded a penalty and Gigot’s boot edged them in the lead.

From 18-0 up at half time to 22-20 down with five minutes left to play. Typical fucking Warrington.

But this side is made of sterner stuff than in recent years. As evidenced already this season, the spirit and attitude amongst this group of players is second to none and, for the umpteenth time this season, we snatched it at the death when Ben Currie finished off a passage of play that saw the ball swing from left to right more times than Andy Burnham. A drop of the shoulder and step off the left foot saw the future man of steel seal the win for the Wire and send us to the top of the league as we enter the final month of the season.

 

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