RFL Programme Column: Looking at French rugby league

With Oldham rightly grabbing the headlines for their terrific win at Hull KR, two other results went slightly under the radar.

Catalans re-affirmed their title credentials with an away win at St Helens, their fifth on the road already this season, and perhaps more significantly, Toulouse saw off Leigh 10-8 in the Challenge Cup.

Leigh, arguably the best team outside the top flight, claimed two Super League scalps in a memorable run last season only for them to fail in what was their ultimate aim, achieving promotion via the middle eights.

Toulouse are currently sweeping all before them in League One in a bid to take up a place in the Championship next season, where they too will have their eye on a top four place and the possibility of joining Catalans in Super League.

While Leigh may have re-aligned their priorities this season, and trips to France being notoriously difficult, it is worth noting that Toulouse managed just one win over the Centurions during their three years in the Championship up until 2011, and that came in the year that Leigh finished in the relegation places.

Whether Toulouse will be able to compete at the higher end of the Championship week-in week-out remains to be seen. They do, however, deserve credit for their sheer persistence.

It was more than 10 years ago that they missed out on the Super League place that went to the Dragons, and their three year stint in the Championship was meant to be a prelude to them applying for a licence in 2012, only for the RFL to renege on a promise that they didn’t have to meet the on-field criteria after it was leaked and received criticism.

After a decade, it is time for a second French team to step up and support the Dragons.

One reason for their introduction was to increase the quality of the France national team to give England a regular competitive test to aid their own attempts at usurping Australia and New Zealand.

While we are seeing a sprinkling of French talent find their way to other Super League clubs, the France national team has gone backwards.

The Dragons rely on a large contingent of overseas stars, but they have to protect their own interests which start with competing at the top end of Super League.

Apparently there is a reluctance among the young French players to learn English, severely hampering their chances of remaining in the full-time rugby league environment if they are cut by the Dragons.

A number of players have made it to these shores, thanks in large to Olivier Elima, the former Wakefield and Bradford forward who has negotiated deals for the likes of Jean-Philippe Baile and Mickael Simon.

Toulouse’s expected presence in the Championship might be seen as a good thing, with the potential for the Dragons to dual-register players with them, but relations are strained and that is unlikely to happen.

The exit of Toulouse from the French league has weakened it, and with the Dragons unlikely to ever step down from Super League, the dream of some to have a strong French league that would result in an Anglo-French competition further down the line looks very much dead in the water.

Catalans’ preference for a second Super League team is believed to be the Chevaliers Cathares select team, who they play in a pre-season friendly each year. The Cathares side is selected from players from Lezignan, Limoux and Carcassonne.

Having such a franchise set-up would enable the players to continue to play in the French league in the winter.

This would then increase the relationship between the French domestic set up and their hopefully two Super League clubs.

What is for sure is that it’s got to the stage now where not only the Dragons can fly the French flag in Super League if it is truly going to remain a European competition.

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