The Challenge Cup semi-final at the University of Bolton Stadium got underway with the cup favourites St Helens against an ever improving underdog, the Catalans Dragons.
Both sides looked strong on paper as the two sides took a week off at the end of the regular Super League season, both having qualified for the Super Eights, albeit at opposite ends of the top flight table.
But this was the cup, a one off game, and anything could happen with a large neutral support in the form of Leeds and Warrington fans cheering on the Dragons.
After a lively opening, Catalans slightly ahead on possession and position, the Dragons opened the scoring with a Josh Drinkwater penalty from right in front of the sticks for a 2-0 lead, after Saints interference at the play-the-ball.
The game was being played at breakneck speed, in perfect conditions, with two strong defences on show.
Lewis Tierney got the games first four pointer on twenty when he scored acrobatically in the right corner from ten metres out as he was the last man at the end of a long passing move. Drinkwater kicked brilliantly from the touchline for 8-0.
James Roby lost the ball over the line on twenty-five under a great defensive tackle by the Dragons.
Benjamin Garcia added to the Saints worries when he barged his way over off a Drinkwater pass on the last tackle, to ground on the line on twenty-nine. Drinkwater failed to add the conversion, the sides separated by two converted tries.
A Gigot drop goal on the next Dragons attack, after Saints put their kick-off out on the full, edged the Dragons into a thirteen point lead with seven minutes to the interval.
A clumsy high tackle from Morgan Knowles on Kenny Edwards saw the Saints second rower yellow carded and sitting on the bench for the next ten minutes. Drinkwater opted to kick the penalty for 15-0.
On thirty-six the Dragons were in again, this time it was Tony Gigot who ghosted through a tired Saints defence to score under the sticks. Drinkwater added the conversion for 21-0. Two minutes later and it was 27-0 as Benjamin Garcia found his way through a broken Saints defence to score from thirty metres. Drinkwater added the extras to complete a sensational first half for the underdogs. Saints would need to make a vast second half improvement or it would be the Dragons making their second Cup Final appearance.
A penalty for interference at the play the ball gifted Drinkwater his sixth kick of the game on forty-four for 29-0, the Dragons adding fourteen to their tally while Knowles was off the field.
Saints finally opened their account on fifty when Mark Percival was the first on a two man overlap to walk in from ten metres after Tierney came off his wing to try and cover as the Dragons defence scrambled. Danny Richardsoon failed to convert from wide.
Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook got the Saints into double figures when he took a Rochardson pass to step out of one tackle and ground over the line. Richardson added the conversion for 10-29, was the unthinkable possible?
On sixty-one the Dragons put the result beyon doubt. Sam Moa went straight down the middle, pushing aside the Saints tackler Theo Fages, to score from ten metres out. Drinkwater added the conversion for a 35-10 lead.
Percival slid over on sixty-seven to ground for Saints third try and Richardson converted brilliantly from the left touchline. But it would be the last score of the game as the Dragons shut up shop to deny Saints further points.
This was a sensational win for the Dragons, against all the odds, which see’s them return to Wembley for their second ever Challenge Cup final at the end of August. They totally outplayed the Champions elect, St Helens, who were almost certain to have been there before the game kicked off. The Dragons forward bossed the game and out the backs in the position to take their tries and rack up an unsurmountable total in a devastating first half. Saints will now go back to guaranteeing the monir premiership and securing their place at Old Trafford, the Dragons will look forward to their day in the Wembley sun.
Saints: Barba, Swift, Makinson, Percival (2T), Grace, Lomax, Richardson (2G), Amor, Roby, Thompson, Knowles (SB on 35), Taia, Wilkin. Subs: Fages, Douglas, McCarthy-Scarsbrook (T), Lees.
Dragons: Gigot (T, DG), Tierney (T), Mead, Wiliame, Yaha, Langi, Drinkwater (7G), Simon, McIlorum, Moa (T), Jullien, Garcia (2T), Casty. Subs: Bousquet, Anderson, Edwards, Baitieri.
Referee: Robert Hicks.