CATALANS DRAGONS 10-12 ST HELENS: Saints’ Kevin Naiqama crossed the line twice as Saints sealed a tight, tense contest at Old Trafford, as League Leaders’ Shield winners Catalans lost out
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Kevin Naiqama provided the perfect leaving present for St Helens by scoring twice as they secured a third straight Betfred Super League title.
The Fijian centre heads back to Australia after three seasons where he has tasted ultimate success on each occasion.
It’s the same for Hull KR-bound full-back Lachlan Coote, who held his nerve superbly to convert Naiqama’s second try with 15 minutes remaining.
It marks Kristian Woolf’s side down as one of the greatest of the summer era, having also lifted the Challenge Cup this July to go alongside two League Leaders’ Shields in the last four seasons.
Saints’ victory denied this year’s table-toppers Catalans an historic first title, which looked within their grasp when Mike McMeeken’s try had them in front with 15 minutes remaining.
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But then Naiqama stepped forward to touch down Jonny Lomax’s clever kick, and though he had to be helped off with a head knock from the incident, he had written his name firmly into the club’s history books.
While scoring was at a premium, the two sides ripped into each other throughout a captivating clash.
The French side went into the game with a good luck message from Old Trafford icon Eric Cantona, who highlighted his Catalonian heritage in a social media message.
Cantona’s on-field temperament would have fitted in well in a brutal, bruising first half that finished with Saints 6-4 ahead after a solitary try.
Woolf’s team targeted the left side of the Dragons defence from the off, with Naiqama and Tommy Makinson, twice, going close.
James Maloney briefly stemmed the tide with a penalty awarded for offside to put Catalans ahead.
But moments later Naiqama was over for the opening try on the same side, taking a Coote pass, stepping inside three defenders and reaching out to ground the ball in Sam Tomkins’ tackle.
Coote missed the difficult conversion but added a penalty of his own shortly after.
The French had barely had an attack of note until that point, and when they finally did, Maloney surprisingly went for goal again in front of the posts to close the gap to two.
Tempers flared on a handful of occasions including when sub Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook clipped Sam Tomkins in the air.
Earlier in the half Saints back rower Sione Mata’utia was fortunate not to be punished for hitting out at Maloney following a kick downfield.
Referee Liam Moore kept a lid on matters, but had to brandish his yellow card soon after the restart.
Josh Drinkwater’s clever kick out wide was fielded by Fouad Yaha, but as he closed in on the line, a desperate Makinson made contact with his head as he tackled the Dragons man into touch and was sin binned.
Saints survived the ensuing attack when sub Jack Welsby intercepted a Benjamin Garcia pass on his own line, but fell behind moments later.
Josh Drinkwater created the position with a superb 40/20 and then kicked again on the last tackle, allowing Davies to knock the ball back to McMeeken to score.
Saints held out for the remainder of Makinson’s stint off the field and then poured forward in search of a response.
It came with 15 minutes remaining.
Lomax produced a perfectly-weighted grubber kick and Naiqama followed through to grab his second before heading back to Australia this winter.
Naiqama had to leave the field with a head knock in the act of scoring that went unpunished – but Coote nervelessly kicked the extras to clinch a third consecutive title in his final act before joining Hull KR.