Rhi­nos wilt as the Dragons chase cru­cial Su­per-8s spot

Yorkshire Post - Sports Monday - - RUGBY LEAGUE - IN PERPIGNAN Email: pe­terj.smith@ypn.co.uk Twit­ter: @PeterSmithYEP Cata­lans Dragons: Gigot, Broughton, Mead, Wil­iame, Tier­ney, Bird, Drinkwa­ter, Simon, McIlo­rum, Moa, Jul­lien, Gar­cia, Casty. Sub­sti­tutes: An­der­son, Bous­quet, Maria, Goude­mand. Leeds Rhi­nos:

IF it had not been for the rugby, it would have been a per­fect week­end.

On a hot day in the south of France, Leeds Rhi­nos pro­duced the lat­est in a grow­ing list of sub­stan­dard per­for­mances and, de­spite a spir­ited fight­back for 20 min­utes in the sec­ond half, were well-beaten by Cata­lans.

In nor­mal cir­cum­stances, a sixth de­feat in the last 10 Su­per League games would leave trav­el­ling fans feel­ing more than a lit­tle fro­maged-off, but game day in Perpignan is like no other.

In hol­i­day mood, hun­dreds of Rhi­nos sup­port­ers spent Satur­day drink­ing in the sun­shine, wan­der­ing around the pic­turesque old town and tast­ing the lo­cal cui­sine.

For them, the main pur­pose of the visit be­came some­thing of a sideshow. How­ever, it was a sig­nif­i­cant re­sult for the French.

Un­der for­mer Brad­ford and Eng­land coach Steve McNa­mara, they only avoided rel­e­ga­tion through a win at Leigh in last year’s ‘Mil­lion-pound match’ and made a poor start this term, but are now off the bottom and just one point be­hind eighth-placed Hud­der­s­field Gi­ants, whom they visit for a Chal­lenge Cup quar­ter­fi­nal on Thurs­day.

Formed through a merger of lo­cal clubs, Cata­lans have got a lot wrong, par­tic­u­larly in re­cruit­ment. Some big names, for ex­am­ple leg­endary New Zealand half­back Stacey Jones, have played in the ‘sang et or’ (blood and gold) colours, but few have lived up to their rep­u­ta­tion.

Cata­lans have re­lied heav­ily on the NRL for play­ers, of­ten bring- ing in ‘ bad boys’ who are in­el­i­gi­ble for a UK visa and there has been lit­tle if any ben­e­fit to the French na­tional team, who re­main a model of un­der-achieve­ment. But Perpignan is a rugby a treize city, de­spite hos­til­ity from lo­cal union side USAP, who have had more suc­cess in re­cent years.

Bruno On­te­niente, who covers Cata­lans home and away for the L’In­de­pen­dant news­pa­per, be­lieves the club are on the up. He says: “It is better now, since the match against Hull FC at home.

“They have won four of the last five matches. That is better for the team and it is better for Steve Mac be­cause at the mo­ment he has got no big in­juries.

“They have been per­form­ing at home. They had to win last week (against Sal­ford) at the Magic Week­end to ex­pect to have Su­per8s. Last year in the mid­dle-eights was very, very dif­fi­cult.”

The Su­per-8s are cru­cial to Cata­lans’ sta­bil­ity as a club, ac­cord­ing to On­te­niente. “It was a dif­fi­cult sea­son last year in the mid­dle-eights. There was no money through at­ten­dances or in the shop so it is im­por­tant this sea­son to fin­ish in the Su­per-8s.”

Cata­lans do it every other week, but for English clubs travel is a fac­tor. Af­ter more than a decade, there are still no di­rect sched­uled flights from York­shire to Perpignan but Rhi­nos chief ex­ec­u­tive Gary Hether­ing­ton be­lieves hav­ing a club in the south of France adds value to the com­pe­ti­tion.

“Cata­lans have be­come the sec­ond-big­gest busi­ness in Su­per League and credit to them,” he says. “They have in­vig­o­rated rugby league through­out the Per­pig- nan re­gion and the match-day at­mos­phere and am­biance makes it a ter­rific place to come.

“They have strug­gled on the pitch in re­cent years and they’d ad­mit their re­cruit­ment hasn’t been as good as they’d like it to be, but, cer­tainly, they bring a vi­brancy to the com­pe­ti­tion. They add quite a bit, but there are some ar­eas that are dis­ap­point­ing.

“They’ve not brought broad­cast value to Su­per League and we’ve not seen any im­prove­ment in the French na­tional team, which was one of the ex­pec­ta­tions of Cata­lans’ en­try into Su­per League. It is a mixed bag in some ways, but when you come here you get the feel­ing this is a Su­per League event.”

There was no money through at­ten­dances or in the shop. Bruno On­te­niente of the L’In­de­pen­dant news­pa­per on playing in the mid­dle-eights.


NO WAY THROUGH: Leeds Rhi­nos winger Ryan Hall is halted in his tracks by the Cata­lans Dragons de­fence in the south of France.

Peter Smith

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