Catalans Dragons head coach Steve McNamara was relieved to have got over the line and finished 2nd in Super League, with the reward a week off and home advantage in the play-off semi-finals.
Having won the League Leaders’ Shield, the Dragons got to Old Trafford in 2021 courtesy of a last-four win against Hull KR in Perpignan.
Last year, after finishing 4th, they exited the competition at the first hurdle in the play-offs against Leeds Rhinos, going into that contest without the much-desired break.
This time around, McNamara’s side headed into the final regular season round sat 2nd, and knew that victory at Salford Red Devils – given their superior points difference to St Helens sat 3rd – would be enough to see them finish in that all-important top two.
In a tense affair, the scores sat level at 8-8 until the 67th minute when Sam Tomkins kicked a one-pointer. Julian Bousquet and veteran Tomkins also crossed for tries late on to give the scoreline a more comfortable feel, and the boss cut the figure of an emotionally drained man come his post-match interview with Sky Sports.
Steve McNamara relieved after Catalans Dragons secure top two finish
Speaking to Jon Wilkin, the former England head coach highlighted the toll the latter stages of the regular season had taken on his squad.
He said: “It’s a good job the Sky cameras weren’t here for the full game, it was an edgy game with errors from both sides and not a classic at all.
“We set up for a tough game in tough conditions coming here, and Salford provided a stern test, but thankfully we got it done and we get a week off at the right time.
“I think we need to get back and re-group. We’ve travelled in four of the last six weeks, we’ve been away from home, so I think the week off will do us good.”
Sky Sports pundit Jamie Jones-Buchanan discusses Catalans’ potential semi-final opponents
While Catalans get the opportunity to rest up, they’re also able to watch their potential semi-final opponents do battle from afar.
The Dragons will host the highest ranked side left in the competition at the Stade Gilbert Brutus in a fortnight’s time, meaning that if 3rd-placed St Helens get the job done as most would expect them to against Warrington Wolves, it’ll be the Saints making that trip over the channel.
Whatever happens, it won’t be Warrington making the journey as if they progressed, they’d automatically go to table toppers Wigan Warriors. If the Wolves pull off a shock, it means that either Leigh Leopards or Hull KR will head to the South of France.
Sky pundit Jamie Jones-Buchanan assessed the meeting between the Red Vee and the Wire, adding: “I like the way Saints are looking at the minute, but you look at Warrington as well and they can be dangerous.
“In a feral type of way, they’re really unpredictable and have lots of talent throughout. They’ve got nothing to lose and there will be no expectation on them.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen, all I know is it’s going to be really entertaining and I’m really looking forward to the next couple of weeks.”