All eyes on France

League Express editor MARTYN SADLER anticipates a great weekend of Rugby League with some key battles taking place across the Channel.

There will be only five games this coming weekend in Super League, the Championship and League 1.
And two of them, with a massive amount at stake, will take place in France, when Catalans Dragons face Hull Kingston Rovers on Thursday night at 7.45pm at the Stade Gilbert Brutus and Toulouse Olympique will play host to Batley Bulldogs at the Stade Ernest Wallon, the stadium they now share with the Stade Toulousain rugby union club, on Saturday at 3.15pm.
The Catalans are predicting a sellout crowd for their clash against the Robins and it will be interesting to see how many people Toulouse can attract for their first home game of the season.
As we have already seen in the play-off games in all three competitions so far, attendances have generally been extremely disappointing, so it would be great to see a sellout crowd in Perpignan on Thursday night. I hope the Catalans are as good as their word in their predictions.
Before Friday night’s match at the Halliwell Jones Stadium, bookmakers were offering odds of 7/1 against a Hull KR victory and I can imagine quite a number of people who must have regretted notj taking up those odds after the event.
This week they will be no doubt at long odds again to spring a shock on the Catalans, but before we start writing off the Robins’ chances, it’s worth looking back at the three games the two sides have played against each other already this season.
They met on the opening weekend of the season on 27 March at Headingley. In that game the Catalans led 28-4, but Hull KR fought back to level at 30-all and to force the game into golden-point time before a James Maloney field-goal secured a 31-30 win for the Catalans, with Ryan Hall scoring a hat-trick of tries in his first game for the Robins.
The clubs met for the second time on Saturday 24 July at the Stade Gilbert Brutus and the Catalans won 32-30, but only after the Robins had led 26-12 at half-time, with the Dragons just managing to haul them back in the second half in what were very hot conditions in the south of France. It was the Catalans’ tenth successive win.
A week later, on 2nd August, they met again at Hull College Craven Park, and this time the Dragons won 23-14, which was slightly easier than in their two previous encounters, but not enough for anyone to believe that Thursday’s outcome is nailed on for the Dragons.
The Robins, even if they are under strength, as they were on Friday night, can still do plenty of damage if they spread the ball and tire the big Catalans forwards.
We saw in the big title fight on Saturday night that the bigger man doesn’t always win, and I’m sure that Tony Smith’s side will go to Perpignan not thinking of themselves as the underdogs.
But whoever wins that game will create history by reaching the Grand Final for the first time.
And that will be a great development for both Super League and Rugby League more generally.
The following day it will be very difficult to imagine that the Bulldogs can upset Toulouse.
The gap between the top two teams in the Championship and the rest has been a chasm this season, and none of us can imagine anything other than a victory for the French club and for Featherstone against Halifax on the same day.
But let’s hope for two good games.
Then the following day, we’ll have Keighley Cougars playing host to Doncaster in the Betfred League 1 Preliminary Final, with the winner earning the opportunity to head to Workington the following weekend for the promotion game.
After Workington’s thrilling golden-point victory against Keighley on Sunday, that is a prospect that will surely draw a big crowd to Derwent Park.