Love Rugby League predicts: 2021 Super League Grand Final

Super League ball

Budding history-makers against seasoned winners.

After a one-year hiatus at Hull FC’s MKM Stadium, the 26th Super League Grand Final returns to Old Trafford this Saturday.

At the home of Manchester United, League Leaders’ Shield winners and Grand Final debutants Catalans Dragons will face seven-time title winners and 2021 Challenge Cup holders St Helens.

It promises to be an entertaining spectacle between two sides keen to add to their silverware haul before the season’s end.

Here are some of the big talking points ahead of a mouth-watering affair at the Theatre of Dreams.

Will history be made?

From a neutral perspective, Saturday’s showdown has the potential to be a historic night for rugby league.

Catalans had never reached Old Trafford before, but 19 regular season wins from 23 matches and a commanding 28-10 play-off semi-final victory over Hull KR have given them a real shot at glory.

An impressive run to the Grand Final is made all the more special considering they were forced to fight for their Super League survival in 2017.

Since relegating Leigh Centurions with a 26-10 victory in the Million Pound Game, head coach Steve McNamara has overseen a turnaround of monumental proportions to catapult the French side up the division.

Now they head to Old Trafford bidding to become the first overseas outfit to lift the Super League trophy.

“All the talk at the minute is about Catalans Dragons; it’s great to have them in the final,” says Love Rugby League journalist Josh McAllister.

“No matter the result, it’s going to be great entertainment, and it’s great to be back in front of fans.

“Last year [the 2020 Grand Final] was a real spectacle at Hull, they put on a real good show, but for players to be back at Old Trafford in front of a big crowd is what it’s all about.”

Selection dilemmas for the Dragons

Sam Tomkins (29) of Catalans Dragons in action.

One man who is no stranger to facing St Helens in high pressure matches is 2021 Man of Steel Sam Tomkins.

The former Wigan Warriors star, recently sidelined by a knee injury, is expected to return to the fold for the first time since leaving the field against his former club last month. 

In his absence, young utility back Arthur Mourgue has excelled in what has undoubtedly been a breakthrough few months in Dragons colours. 

Despite his recent purple patch, however, the return of Tomkins could see Mourgue drop down to the bench, a position he has already become accustomed to over the course of his 21 appearances during this campaign.

But will a change of personnel by McNamara, in a game as high-profile as this, and with one of his options potentially lacking a degree of match fitness, prove to be a risky call?

“With Sam Tomkins coming back, that could be huge,” admits Josh McAllister.

“It’s a really tough decision. Does [Arthur] Mourgue not make the matchday 17, does he play from the bench?

“When you’ve got a player like Sam Tomkins available, you can’t not play him. Even at 80% fitness, with his experience and on a pitch like this, you can’t not play him.”

Key battles to watch

St Helens captain James Roby at Old Trafford
St Helens captain James Roby at Old Trafford.

There’ll be no shortage of battles across the park, with two of the largest packs going toe-to-toe on the grandest stage of all.

Spearheading their respective sides around the field will likely be James Roby, St Helens’ veteran hooker, and Dragons lynchpin Michael McIlorum, now in his fourth season at the club.

Both men possess the kind of big-game nous required to edge their side over both the physical and metaphorical line.

Neither possess the sparkling pace of youth, but at 35 and 33 years of age, elite final know-how is a commodity that will serve both Super League stalwarts well.

The thought of seeing Alex Walmsley and Sam Kasiano, both selections in the 2021 Super League Dream Team, careering towards each other is one that will surely set the heart racing.

So too will the back-row tussle between Morgan Knowles and Mike McMeeken, two men who rarely fail to turn in consistent performances, both in attack and defence.

Who will go all the way?

The biggest question of all, and one that will likely not be decided until the very final knockings at Old Trafford.

Given the magnitude of the occasion, few people, if any, will expect a one-sided contest. 

And considering the nature of their enthralling battle at this year’s Magic Weekend, a match won 31-30 by the Dragons in the most remarkable of fashion to secure the League Leaders’ Shield, a little added revenge on the part of the Saints will only add to what is an already jam-packed concoction of subplots.

“My heart says Catalans because I want there to be a new name on the trophy, but Saints have been there and done it before,” says deputy editor Drew Darbyshire.

“I think almost everyone fancies Catalans [to win] because they want to see French rugby league succeed,” adds Josh McAllister.

Drew says: Catalans by 8

Josh says: Catalans by 4

Regardless of personal opinion, all signs point towards a thrilling end-of-season sign-off.

For one set of players, immortality awaits.

8 Comments

  1. Even though I’m a fan of grass roots rugby-league from the north of England…..I can’t see anything other than a frog win ….roll on 10 years time & the death of rugby-league as we knew it ……….up the RFL & well done .

  2. As a grass roots rugby-league fan from the north of England , I can’t see anything more than the frogs winning this 1 way or another. Great the RFL are with them all the way….lets see what lessons are learned in 10 to 20 years time when the death of rugby-league is upon us due to keep promoting French rugby-league into our great sport….well done the RFL …

  3. Well first of all Kate I object strongly to your derogatory name for the French team but I’ll leave that.
    Catalan’s success as well earned as is that of Toulouse and will continue to be a great shot in the arm for our sport. So what would you prefer? Every year total domination by Saints, or Wigan? Maybe for a complete change Wigan and Saints with a little threat from the Wire. It’s not sour grapes from me. My team is in the Championship and is likely to stay there for the rest of my lifetime in which I followed them all over the M62, but with excursions to Cumbria obviously plus Fulham, Cardiff Blue Dragons etc.
    So please celebrate and enjoy the continued success and expansion of the best sport in the world.

    • Well said ! I’m from Sydney, and fully support the attempts to reinstate French RL to where it once was decades ago. Go Catalans and Toulouse XIII !!

    • Derogatory ? So I’m the only person to say that , come on we are adults, don’t we live in a world of freedom of speech & democracy if its not racist.
      Answer to your question though , as stated I wish for parity across the board , total fairness, would love to see championship sides etc flourish & one day see the likes of Featherstone, leigh or Whitehaven competing in a grand final. My team in ( Lancashire ) also is in the championship .

    • Well you too so called rugby league journalists haven’t a clue when it comes to big games, you should know by now never write off the saints, I’m so happy saints dominated that final last night, to come through a brutal game when you are getting penalised every set was nothing short of remarkable, you could tell the RFL wanted a new name on the trophy. All week we had to listen to Catalan this and Catalan that it was a complete bias on your part as rugby journalists. COYS!!!!! 3Peat!!!!!

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