Steve McNamara ready for upstart Catalans to take final step in Saturday’s Grand Final against favourites St Helens at Old Trafford
- Steve McNamara will seek to lead Catalans to Grand Final glory on Saturday
- The 2021 man of Steel Sam Tomkins has fired the Dragons charge this season
- They are the first side from beyond the M62 corridor to appear in season finale
Steve McNamara calls it the reverse Arsene Wenger. ‘I think he once said he started to get worried about Arsenal when Sir Alex Ferguson started being nice to him,’ explains the coach of the upstart Catalans Dragons.
‘We have the opposite here. People used to love a nice trip to the south of France to play us and we were everybody’s second team. We’re not now — that’s because we’re a threat.’
At Saturday night’s Grand Final, the son of Hull will lead that threat from the eastern Pyrenees on to Old Trafford’s pristine turf to face the mountainous task of downing favourites St Helens.
Steve McNamara will seek to lead the Catalans Dragons to Grand Final glory on Saturday
Never mind being the first club from outside England to appear in the season finale, Catalans are the first from beyond the M62 corridor.
To the traditionalists, it will seem alien. To McNamara, 50, it is completely natural. Having taken over in 2017 and led the former underachievers to Challenge Cup glory a year later, he feels at home in Perpignan on the France-Spain border.
‘You mention the south of France to people and they think of Saint-Tropez, Nice,’ he explains. ‘But this is different. It’s not glamour and glitz. It’s a working-class place that just happens to have beautiful beaches and mountains. There are so many differences to a lad from Hull but the ethos — working hard to achieve success — is there.’
That ethos is epitomised by the club’s owner, Bernard Guasch. ‘He owns a meat production company,’ explains McNamara. ‘He’s very wealthy but he goes to the factory, where the cows get slaughtered, at 4am. He comes home, has a siesta for two hours and goes back in the afternoon until 7 at night. That’s just what they do here. They graft.’
On foreign soil, a familiar face has fired the Dragons’ charge. Sam Tomkins, one of the game’s greats, arrived from Wigan in 2019 and some may have wondered if his best days were behind him aged 30. This week’s Man of Steel award should shut them up.
‘He is at the top of his game,’ says McNamara. ‘You can have an experienced player but just because they are experienced that does not mean they are a leader.
The 2021 man of Steel Sam Tomkins (above) has fired the Dragons charge this season
‘Sam leads, on and off the field. The way he plays, he makes those around him better. That’s a sign of being a world-class player.’
Those who feel Tomkins has a point to prove may say the same of McNamara. In 2015, the England job was wrenched away from him in the wake of a 2-1 series victory over New Zealand in a move that made little sense.
Is he on a mission to prove people wrong?
‘No,’ he says. ‘I have no regrets. I wouldn’t change a thing. It hurt but it’s not something I use as motivation.’
Would he return? ‘I’d love to do it again,’ he says. ‘It’s hard to describe the feeling of representing your country.’
For now, he is all about Catalonia, and that is underlined when asked about the plans for Saturday night.
‘We get that flight back,’ says McNamara. ‘Get back to Perpignan — get back to our people.’