The Super League restart was 100 minutes old for Catalans, but at around 4.30pm on Saturday, the Dragons’ fiercest critics were already sharpening their knives. Humiliated – there really is no other word for it – in their opening game against St Helens last Sunday, a sluggish start against Castleford here left many fearing another comprehensive loss was on the cards.
They were 14-0 behind in the blink of an eye and even the most optimistic Catalans fan would have feared the worst. But good teams never give up and great players so often inspire great – perhaps even season-defining – comebacks like these. For all his controversy away from the field, there is no denying Israel Folau falls firmly into that category.
Folau claimed the headlines last Sunday when he was the only player to decide against taking a knee pre-match. On Saturday, though, he was joined by two of his teammates, Sam Moa and Ben Garcia.
But when the action started, Folau was, as he has been so often during his career, in a league of his own.
To attribute this impressive Catalans comeback solely down to Folau would be a fraction harsh, given the heroics of their brave young full-back, Arthur Mourgue, or their energetic workhorses upfront Remi Casty and Sam Kasiano. But when the chips were down, and the game needed a moment of class, Folau provided it in spades.
The game certainly swung on Peter Mata’utia being sent to the sin-bin in the 31st minute. At that stage, Castleford were in control thanks to two tries from Michael Shenton and three goals from Danny Richardson.
But when Folau created space for Tom Davies to dive over in the corner, it was clear the controversial Australian was in the mood.
Within three tackles of Mata’utia’s yellow card for a dangerous tackle on Samisoni Langi, Alrix Da Costa burrowed over to make it 14-10 before Folau tore through Castleford’s defence with speed, power and prowess to put them into a half-time lead they would retain for the remainder of the contest without conceding another point.
It was some turnaround from Catalans and an equally startling collapse from Castleford, who looked all-but certain to go top of the table after a quarter of the game. Their early play was filled with the promise they showed before lockdown and Shenton’s second, a stunning team effort that allowed the Tigers to unlock Catalans with ease, typified that.
But as they wilted in the scorching West Yorkshire heat, Catalans and Folau came to life. We are used to seeing the Dragons fall away badly on English soil, just as they did against St Helens. But now they were full of energy, they scrambled for one another in defence and had the killer moments just when the game hung on a knife-edge.
They were certainly fortunate for the try that helped them extend their 16-14 half-time lead, though. Following a tense opening 15 minutes after the restart, a moment of madness from Derrell Olpherts put the Dragons two scores ahead. Olpherts attempted to pass to a teammate in his own in-goal area, but he was off-target, giving Garcia a simple finish.
From there, Folau took charge again. An incredible leap teed up Joel Tomkins, before another assist enabled Davies to score his second and put the game beyond Castleford once and for all.
He had no involvement in their final try, which was scored by Jason Baitieri, but Folau had more than played his part.