Grand Final mind games begin between Catalans and St Helens coaches

St Helens coach Kristian Woolf
St Helens coach Kristian Woolf

Catalans Dragons coach Steve McNamara insists there is no pressure on his team going into their maiden Super League Grand Final.

The former England boss says defending champions St Helens deserve to go into Saturday’s game as favourites as they seek to clinch a third successive title and a record-equalling eighth Grand Final in all.

“There is no pressure on us,” Steve McNamara said. “The pressure was last week. Saints are clearly the favourites.”

Happy to join the mind games, Saints coach Kristian Woolf says the Catalans’ achievement in finishing top of the table, courtesy of their recent victory over his team in Newcastle, makes them the clear favourites.

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“They’re the league leaders and there was the Magic Weekend so you’d definitely put the Catalans as favourites,” he said.

“We can really enjoy this week. You get a lot of pressure when you haven’t done something for a long time or haven’t done something before. In 2019 there was pressure on us because we hadn’t won a Grand Final for a few years.

“There is no pressure on the group whatsoever this year because of what the group has achieved over the last two years, both in the Super League and the Challenge Cup.

“It’s a great opportunity to just enjoy it a little bit more than in past years.”

Steve McNamara on his biggest success

McNamara, who says his achievement in steering the Catalans to a first Grand Final ranks alongside guiding England to the World Cup semi-final in 2013, believes victory at Old Trafford would surpass the club’s Challenge Cup success at Wembley in 2018.

“I think it’s the biggest, that’s been shown in the build-up with the national interest from L’Equipe and Canal+ shows the interest that is growing in France,” said McNamara, whose side were given a colourful send-off at Perpignan airport on Thursday morning.

Woolf hoping to rain on Catalans’ parade

Woolf, who is also coach of Tonga, knows his team will be aiming to spoil the French party.

“I think it’s absolutely outstanding what the Catalans have done,” he said. “It’s really good for the game to have someone from France in the Grand Final.

“I’m involved in the international rugby league and it adds to the occasion.

“We’ve got our own reasons for wanting to win, we need to worry about ourselves and our own motives.”

The Dragons flew in on a private charter two days before the game in order to fulfil media obligations and enable their players to undergo the traditional familiarisation exercise on the Old Trafford pitch.

It is a break with a tried and trusted formula which has seen the Dragons fly in on the day of the game for all previous 15 matches in England this season but McNamara says his players are ready to adjust.

“We’re staying in a nice hotel in Manchester and we’ll get our team run done nice and early, there will be no excuse whatsoever,” he added.

Steve McNamara has included full-back Sam Tomkins in an unchanged 21-man squad. He is confident the newly-crowned Man of Steel will shake off the knee injury that forced him to sit out the semi-final win over Hull KR.

“He’s in good shape,” he said. “I’d be surprised if he doesn’t play.”

Woolf, who says he is preparing for Tomkins to return, has kept faith with the players that beat Leeds in their semi-final.

With scrum-half Theo Fages and back rower James Bentley injured, the only notable absentee is likely to be second-rower Joel Thompson, who is retiring after the game and set to lose out to Joe Batchelor and Sione Mata’utia.

“Obviously I was really happy with what the 17 did last week,” Woolf said.

The Catalans club have organised five charter flights and hope to have up to 2,000 fans at Old Trafford. Organisers are hopeful they can avoid the previous lowest crowd of 43,553 which attended the inaugural Grand Final in 1998.

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