For years, there has been an argument that British rugby league has been crying out for a watershed moment. Time will tell whether this was that day but as the Catalans captain, Rémi Casty, lifted the Challenge Cup high amidst the choruses of La Marseillaise, it was impossible not to be excited about where this result could take a sport which demands more attention.
To sum up this afternoon, the Challenge Cup had never left England in its 121-year history. While the Dragons have made the final once before, the manner in which they were dispatched by the great St Helens side of 2007 means that, in reality, it has never even been that close to doing so. Until now.
t is almost impossible to put in context what this means for not only French rugby league – a sport banned by the Vichy government 70 years ago – but the game's landscape as a whole. Ever since Catalans stunned the Super League leaders, St Helens, in the semi-finals, the attention was on how the Dragons' involvement in the final would yield a low Wembley crowd.
That proved to be the case, with this being the lowest attendance since 1945, but in reality that would always fade into a mere footnote were Catalans to achieve the impossible and become the first overseas side to win this competition. With Eddie Hearn front and centre of the Royal Box watching on and still seemingly intent on revamping the sport's image, this could not have been a more appropriate day for the promoter to witness first-hand.
Few could argue with this result, too. While this perhaps was not the most skilful, awe-inspiring contest Wembley has ever seen, it had its moments of tension throughout. But right from the moment Lewis Tierney's second-minute try put Catalans ahead, they never fell behind once. That underlines why they were the worthy winners here.
"It's huge for our owner, our players and the sport in France," Steve McNamara, their coach, said. "I hope this creates huge headlines here and in France and it helps the sport to grow even further. When we get back to Perpignan that's going to be where this really strikes home."
And at a time when rugby league is pursuing its expansionist dream greater than ever before, this now provides the sport with proof that teams outside the heartlands can succeed. The acid test now for Catalans and the sport? Ensure there is a legacy from this point and build on what, you could argue, is the most important result for more than a generation.
Warrington were cast in the role of villains, with rugby league romantics yearning for the Catalans win. This was certainly not their day – and they have no time to dwell, with a potentially decisive game against Hull on Thursday, as they look to maintain their push for the Grand Final.
"That's going to be a good challenge for us," their coach, Steve Price, said. "It wasn't our best performance but look, credit to Catalans. It's gut-wrenching to lose a final."
Catalans were on top almost immediately. Tierney's superb finish put them ahead within minutes, before a penalty from Josh Drinkwater and a further effort from Benjamin Garcia put them in control by half-time. Warrington, visibly below-par, could muster only a try via Ben Murdoch-Masila following a rare Catalans error.
The Dragons' superiority was underlined by their perfect completion rate in that first half and it did not take long for them to score again; this time Brayden Wiliame following a 40-20 from the outstanding Tony Gigot, the deserved man of the match. As the French began to tire expectation of a Warrington fightback grew, particularly when George King scored in the final quarter.
Catalans teams of years gone by would have collapsed but not this group. Little over a year ago, they retained their Super League status only via the Million Pound Game. Their chairman, Bernard Guasch, said it would have been disastrous for French rugby league had they lost.
As they head back to Perpignan with the famous trophy in their possession, the mood will be quite the opposite. Rugby league has been handed a wonderful opportunity.
This was first published by www.theguardian.com