Wed. May 18th, 2022

Just over a year ago, Agnatius Paasi’s rugby league career stood at a crossroads after leaving the Warriors’ Australian camp to return home to his young family in Auckland.

Now the Auckland-born frontrower is on the verge of winning another major title with St Helens bidding a third in a row Super League grand final crown.

Paasi has already won a Challenge Cup final at Wembley, and will play at another of England’s major stadiums, Old Trafford, in the Super League title decider against French club Catalans Dragons on Saturday (Sunday NZ time).

Sky Sport

St Helens – with ex-Warriors prop Agnatius Paasi – won the Challenge Cup final for the first time in 13 years in 2021.

He goes head-to-head with two Kiwi compatriots-Catalans Super League Dream Team committee Sam Kasiano and ex-Penrith Panthers center Dean Whare.

READ MORE:
* Former Warrior and Wembley winner as St Helens wins first Challenge Cup in 13 years
* NRL: Former Warriors favorite James Maloney retires at end of Super League season
* Kiwi staff Sam Kasiano and former Warriors are named in the Super League Dream Team
* Magic James Maloney -field goal earns for the French club Super League’s minor premiere

Agnatius Paasi played 53 games for the Warriors and scored seven attempts.

Hannah Peters / Getty Images

Agnatius Paasi played 53 games for the Warriors and scored seven attempts.

It is far from 12 months ago when Paasi’s gaming function seemed uncertain.

Paasi – nicknamed Iggy – had carved out a niche as an interchange player during two strong seasons after returning to the Warriors from the Gold Coast Titans in 2018.

He moved to the Warriors in 2020 for the Covid-19 pandemic campaign, but played only six games due to ankle injuries before a mid-season decision to return home.

The father of four was among a clutch of players returning to Auckland in July for family reasons.

He then admitted that it had been “hard when the training is over and you come back to your room and your family is not there”. He said it was “a little lonely” and there had been “sleepless nights; woke up in the middle of the night thinking your family is here when they are not – it’s hard.”

Paasi – a Tongan international in 2014, the year of his Warriors NRL debut – was contracted to the Warriors until the end of the 2022 season, but with new coach Nathan Brown seeking to bolster his front row with bigger men, he chose to explore other possibilities.

St Helens beat Super League rivals Leeds Rhinos to his signature and Paasi got an early release from the Warriors.

He arrived in England to snow in January and told St Helens Star he loved “making lots of runs, hard berries and hard tackles” and said he liked “enforcing myself in a game”.

Agnatius Paasi - in action in his final season with the Warriors.

Michael Bradley / Getty Images

Agnatius Paasi – in action in his final season with the Warriors.

Paasi has established himself in an exchange role and marks himself in the Saints’ 26-12 victory in the Challenge Cup final before 40,000 fans at Wembley.

So integrated he is into the team’s schedule, Saints coach Krisitin Woolf fast-tracked him back in the lineup for the playoffs after serving a two-game ban for a high shot at Catalan’s Dragon center Samisoni Langi in August.

Most rugby neutrals will back the Catalans Dragons – who are in the Super League final for the first time, three years after winning the Challenge Cup 2018.

Catalans Dragons Kiwi prop Sam Kasiano has been named in the Super League Dream Team.

Nigel Roddis / Getty Images

Catalans Dragons Kiwi prop Sam Kasiano has been named in the Super League Dream Team.

In addition to Whare (19 internationals for the Kiwis from 2012-19) and Kasiano (six kiwis internationals and five for Samoa), the Catalans’ camp includes New Zealand-born general manager Alex Chan, a three-cap Kiwis frontrower who first joined the French club playing in 2006. His son, Joe Chan, played from the bench in the Catalans’ semi-final victory over Hull Kingston Rovers.

The Catalans’ backline includes two former Warriors – defender Sam Tomkins (who this week won the Super League’s Man of Steel MVP award) and standoff James Maloney, who is retiring from elite professional rugby league after the Old Trafford final.

Both were Dream Team picks this year and are no strangers to the great last glory, Tomkins in the Super League with Wigan and Maloney in the NRL with Sydney Roosters and Cronulla Sharks.

The Catalans are being coached by Englishman Steve McNamara, a Warriors assistant coach in 2018, before securing an early release to take the reins in Perpignan.

A Catalan victory has the potential to grow rugby leagues in France, which could celebrate a twin success if Toulouse Olympique wins the second final of the championship in the final on Sunday to join the Catalans in the Super League next season.

Catalans Dragons players bully James Maloney (headband) after his match-winning field goal in golden point time against St Helens.

Stu Forster / Getty Images

Catalans Dragons players bully James Maloney (headband) after his match-winning field goal in golden point time against St Helens.

Woolf insisted at a pre-final press conference that the Catalans are favorites after beating St Helens twice to win the League Leaders Shield as minor premieres.

But McNamara countered, saying the pressure was on Woolf’s men, not his side. “The pressure was last week. Saints are clearly the favorites.”

The Catalans had a sold-out amount for their semi-final and were bullied at Perpignan airport when they left for Manchester.

McNamara believes a Super League title would surpass the Challenge Cup crown as the club’s greatest achievement. “It has been shown in the construction with the national interest from The team [national sports newspaper] and Canal + [television] shows the interest growing in France, “he said.

The grand final marks the final match for the Saints by defender Lachlan Coote (off to Hull KR) and wing Kevin Naiquama (returning to Australia), while Maloney (off to semi-pro French club Lezignan) and prop Joel Tompkins (Leigh Centurions) will say au revoir to the Dragons.

AT FIRST GLANCE

The Super League’s grand final

St Helens vs. Catalans Dragons

06.00 Sunday (NZ time).

Live on Sky Sport 54.

Did you know? St Helens are chasing an eighth Super League title – which would resemble Leeds Rhinos’ record. The Merseyside Club also offers a fourth Super League Challenge Cup double and a third treble (Super League, Challenge Cup and League Leaders Shield).

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