Catalans held off a blistering second half fightback by Wakefield to pinch a late 25-18 win in the opening game of Magic Weekend at Anfield.
Tony Gigot’s drop goal three minutes from time looked to have settled the game at 19-18, but Ben Garcia’s dive over from dummy half made certain in the dying seconds.
Wakefield had fought back from a 12-0 half-time deficit to lead 14-12 and were made to rue a golden opportunity squandered as the Dragons dug in to take the points and put more pressure on second placed Warrington.
Both sides had an early look at each other’s line, an error by Catalans inside the first two minutes enabling Wakefield to go close through Matty Ashurst and Craig Kopczak, both held up near the line.
After seeing off that attack, the Dragons forced a repeat set on their first visit to the Kop end, Tony Gigot’s kick pushed dead for a drop out.
They would soon set up camp in front of the Kop, which housed the Wakefield support, and on six minutes, David Mead was held up over the line.
Trinity’s goal-line defence was looking strong and nonemoreso than on seven minutes when Catalans created an overlap on the left hand side enabling Fouad Yaha to try and power over in the corner, but Max Jowitt and a couple of team-mates did enough to hold him up.
After seeing off that flurry of pressure, the game settled down until the first try on 18 minutes. Gigot took the ball to the line and put in a scrappy kick from a couple yards short of the try line, Yaha winning the race to ground the ball in the corner for 4-0.
Wakefield responded straight away by forcing a drop out at the other end, but that was a blip in what was turning in to a more than competent Catalans display.
Mead was held up once again by excellent Wakefield after taking a pass from Samisoni Langi, and it took a questionable pass to finally break Trinity’s resolve for a second time.
An attack moved left and Kenny Edwards’ searching ball to the touchline looked forward, play was allowed to carry on and Yaha fed Gigot on his inside to the anger of the Trinity fans behind the posts.
Gigot converted that one and he added a penalty two minutes before the hooter for a 12-0 half-time lead.
Wakefield turned the game on its head with a lightning start to the second half.
Their first try will do well to be bettered this entire weekend, Mason Caton-Brown backing himself to burn past Langi on the left touchline and he found Jacob Miller on his inside who then put Kyle Wood over under the posts.
All the momentum had swung in Trinity’s favour and they returned to the Kop end to force a drop-out from Miller’s kick.
From the repeat set, Kenny Edwards shot out the line and Ryan Hampshire skipped past him to feed Danny Kirmond who wasn’t going to be stopped from close range.
Perhaps the pivotal moment of the match came on 48 minutes, Craig Kopczak’s short pass sending James Batchelor romping up the middle and while his nice dummy sold Gigot, he would have been better served putting Miller away. As it was, Batchelor was caught metres from the line and Wakefield were forced to settle for a penalty, nudging them 14-12 in front.
They continued to attack and thought they had got a third try on 50 minutes when Caton-Brown went flying in at the corner, only for the video referee to find he had a foot in touch.
Catalans managed to stop the rot and when Edwards went probing the line, he forced an error off Jones-Bishop, and from the resulting scrum, Garcia charged over off a short Gigot pass.
That was harsh on Wakefield given the pattern of the half, but they levelled things up on 69 minutes, Wood deciding to switch the play in midfield and that created space for Jones-Bishop to back himself and slide over.
Hampshire missed the difficult touchline conversion, but Wakefield were gifted field position back when Gigot, who had been berating team-mates for mistakes throughout the second half, kicked off on the full.
It was prime to set-up for a drop goal, but when space appeared on the left, Miller decided to kick to try and find Caton-Brown which proved to be a decision he would regret.
On 77 minutes, Gigot kicked a superb one-pointer from 40 metres to nudge the Dragons in front and Wakefield were stunned.
A scrappy kick-off kept the pressure off the Dragons, and when Max Jowitt spilled Matty Smith’s high kick on the last tackle that was virtually the game.
Garcia made sure to the delight of a noisy travelling army of fans from Perpignan.
A strategic timeout
When Tony Gigot went down injured in the 55th minute, Catalans were struggling. Their forwards were blowing on their way back to the line at the end of each set, and Wakefield’s tails were up. While the French international may well have had a knock, rather than gamesmanship in this instance, it showed the value of having a pause in the game to enable the Dragons to get their heads back having been blown out for the first 15 minutes of the second half. They got themselves back in front shortly after.
There’s no doubting that on their day, Catalans are capable of winning Super League. The problem is when they switch off, as we saw in this match. They turned a winning position at 12-0 in to 12-14 in no time. With Matty Smith back to steer the troops, if they can cut out these lapses in concentration and momentum, they can be contenders.
There are no superlatives for Wakefield
No matter who they’re missing or who they’re playing, Wakefield always turn up and give it a right good go to the extent that it’s hard to come up with any more superlatives to throw at them, such is their continuing achievement. The 10 minutes they played at the start of the second half was blistering and got them back in to this match. Full of players with points to prove, they back themselves time and time again to go the distance, and more often than not, make it happen.
Line-ups and ratings
Wakefield: Jowitt (6), Jones-Bishop (7), Lyne (7), Sa’u (6), Caton-Brown (7), Miller (8), Hampshire (7), Fifita (7), Wood (7), Kopczak (7), Ashurst (6), Kirmond (6), King (5). Subs: Batchelor (6), England (6), Randell (6), Tanginoa (7).
Tries: Wood, Kirmond, Caton-Brown. Goals: Hampshire 3.
Catalans: Gigot (7), Yaha (7), Mead (7), Wiliame (7), Tierney (6), Langi (7), Smith (7), Bousquet (5), Da Costa (6), Moa (6), Whitley (6), Garcia (7), Casty (6). Subs: Edwards (7), Simon (6), Baitieri (6), Kasiano (5).
Tries: Yaha, Gigot, Garcia 2. Goals: Gigot 4. Drop goals: Gigot.
James Batchelor will do well to avoid the wrath of coach Chris Chester for bombing the try that would have seen Wakefield 18-12 in front, and who knows maybe home and dry. As it was, that was a big let off for the Dragons and they managed to get themselves back on the horse.
Catalans found a way to win despite being blown out in the second half, and they will continue to ask questions of at least second placed Warrington if their run continues.