For all the hype and expectation surrounding Israel Folau before his first game in England as a Catalans Dragons player it was another marquee name wearing blood and gold who stole the show. Only the Hull FC defenders will know if, in the dying seconds here, they were anticipating the pass to Folau from James Maloney that never came, which afforded the fly-half the fraction of space required to score the game’s winning try for the Dragons.
In any other season a player of Maloney’s pedigree arriving in Super League would be the biggest import into the competition. Sonny Bill Williams and, more controversially, Folau, have knocked the New South Wales and Australia star down the pecking order somewhat but he underlined his quality here.
Not that Folau was at all peripheral to Maloney’s match‑winning moment. Marc Sneyd had kicked what looked to be a decisive drop goal, putting Hull 29-28 ahead with two minutes remaining – but, when Catalans reclaimed the kick‑off thanks to a magnificent leap from Folau, it put the Dragons in the ascendancy again.
“It was a special play and a special catch,” said the Catalans coach, Steve McNamara. Hull had played down any talk of protests before the match and, apart from one or two rainbow flags in the crowd and a round of pantomime booing for his first touch, there was little hostility directed Folau’s way.
On the field Folau, too, was subdued. “We underused him … he was solid without being spectacular,” McNamara said. “He’s got some talent but we never really kicked for him.”
Folau and Catalans looked destined to head back across the Channel with nothing before a remarkable comeback in the final quarter.
Hull were much the stronger of the two teams in the opening hour and, after leading 16-10 at half-time courtesy of a try by Carlos Tuimavave and a brace from Mahe Fonua, Jamie Shaul and Manu Ma’u added further scores to underline the hosts’ superiority. Catalans seemed beaten.
Benjamin Jullien’s second try of the afternoon on 62 minutes seemed mere consolation – but seconds later the Dragons were in again when Josh Drinkwater benefited from a Sam Tomkins break. Tomkins, like Maloney, has faded into the background since Folau’s arrival but he was instrumental in their comeback here.
Hull, having endured back-to-back defeats before this game, always seemed vulnerable after Catalans had brought the game back into the balance and, after Tomkins broke through again with nine minutes left, Samisoni Langi crossed to level the scores. Suddenly a Hull side who their own coach has admitted are struggling to deal with adversity were a mess.
“I think so,” Lee Radford said when asked whether confidence had taken a hit with his side, while also acknowledging the importance of Folau in the game-defining passage of play. “You can train for those short kick-offs but the issue is we don’t have anyone that’s 8ft 2in.”
Hull, like Catalans, have plenty of talent in their squad but defeats by three of the leading contenders for the Grand Final in St Helens, Wigan and now Catalans are clearly an issue that they will need to fix.
Sneyd’s drop goal to make it 29-28 with three minutes remaining after that Catalans comeback looked to have won them the game but it was only the start of the late drama. Folau’s catch was one thing; Maloney’s finish was another. Hull had been determined not to make a big deal of the fanfare surrounding Folau pre-match but in the end they had switched off when there looked to be only one possible outcome and Catalans, with their star power aplenty, made them pay.
Hull FC Shaul; Fonua, Connor, Griffin, Buchanan; Kelly, Sneyd; Taylor, Houghton, Sao, Lane, Ma’u, Ellis. Interchange Tuimavave, Satae, Fash, Bowden.
Tries Fonua 2, Tuimavave, Shaul, Ma’u. Goals Sneyd 4. Drop goal Sneyd 77.
Catalans Tomkins; Tierney, Langi, Folau, Yaha; Maloney, Drinkwater; Casty, McIlorum, Bousquet, Whitley, Jullien, Garcia. Interchange Seguier, Maria, Baitieri, Kasiano.
Tries Yaha, Jullien 2, Drinkwater, Langi, Maloney. Goals Maloney 5.
Referee G Hewer. Attendance 12,003.