Rugby League will survive with a little help from its friends, according to Catalans coach Steve McNamara, who is turning to his fellow coaches to help deal with one of the most difficult periods of his career.
The Dragons have been left reeling by four positive test results for Covid-19, leaving the club in strict 14-day isolation quarantine and forcing the postponement of two fixtures.
With the club in a state of paralysis, McNamara has turned for advice from Hull FC coach Andy Last, who has already had to deal with the same situation.
McNamara told League Express: “We’re all in this together, and even though we are rivals in the competition it’s important that we all share what we know if we’re going to move forward.
“I spoke to Lasty about their situation and it will be interesting to see how they go this week (this was written before Hull’s match against Huddersfield on Sunday). They’ve already been through what we’re experiencing, having had two weeks without a run then two short training sessions before going straight into a game.
“It’s not about pinching ideas or asking advice to gain an advantage, it’s more about the welfare of the players, it’s as simple as that. We can all learn from how Hull dealt with it and how they came out of it. Andy’s been really good in sharing his experiences, which will help the welfare of our players.
“We all need the game to keep going, to survive, so we have to have our players out there playing fit and healthy. We have some ideas of our own that we’ve shared with other clubs and I’m sure everybody’s doing that. It’s the only way we will get through this.”
McNamara admitted the positive tests had been a hammer blow for the Dragons, who had been on a run of form since the Super League restart, but he is confident that they will get back on track.
He added: “We’d got back playing and we were finding some rhythm, so that’s the frustrating part, because the process has stopped. But the overriding feeling in the group is that we can’t do anything about this now, so let’s get through it, move on and go again.
“As long as everyone is safe and healthy and we don’t pick up too many more cases moving forward, then we should be alright. We have to focus on what is next for us as a Rugby League team and that will be the Wigan home fixture.”
McNamara said questions had been asked about the possible source of infection for the three players and one member of staff, but he stressed that any investigations were designed to improve biosecurity and not as a means of issuing disciplinary measures.
He said: “There has been no finger-pointing and blame allocation. There is no point in naming the individuals involved as these are private medical matters and subject to confidentiality. If the people involved wish to let people know, then that’s their prerogative.
“Before the season restarted we all spoke about what could happen, and what we would do if players got infected. And when it happened to Hull FC I remember saying to Andy Last that you’re the first but you won’t be the last because of the sheer size of this pandemic.
“But there’s no point sulking about what might have been; it’s more about looking forward to the next phase and coming out of this.
“The investigation is continuing, we have asked questions and checked everything in our environment, but in terms of conclusions it’s an almost impossible task. All you can do is cross-check everything and make sure we’re as watertight as possible.”
As for the season ahead, is McNamara confident that Catalans can continue to compete?
“Nothing’s impossible and we’ll find a way, we’ve said that all along. Of course there may be some more spanners in the works as we move forward and any number of situations and challenges, but the fact is the competition is up and running.
“I said at the start it might not be equal but it is as fair as it could possibly be and we’ll pick the baton up and be ready to go again against Wigan.”
In the meantime, Catalans players and staff are in strict isolation and can only communicate by telephone or online. The Dragons will be allowed to train again on 9th September, three days before their much-anticipated first home match since the restart.
French government officials have still not given the green light to the fixture, but Dragons officials are confident of getting an elite sports exemption for the Warriors to travel to France without having to quarantine, similar to the system in place in the UK. The club is hoping for a crowd of up to 7,000 at Stade Gilbert Brutus.
McNamara said: “Our club is working around the clock to make sure this fixture happens. All we can do as a playing group is make sure we are ready.
“We’ve got the four confirmed cases and we’re still waiting on results from the second round of tests to see if there are any more. Of those four, a couple of have got mild symptoms and a couple have no symptoms at all.
“Everyone’s okay in that respect, but the fall-out from that is how it affects those players’ families and everyone who has been in contact with them, so it’s been an extremely difficult process, but one that we’re getting through and we will come out the other side.
“The biggest feeling is frustration. But you’re talking about a global pandemic. I was looking at some stats and there are over 24 million people who have been infected throughout the world and possibly two or three times that number who don’t even know that they’ve had it.
“It’s huge all around the world and everyone is doing their best to minimise the impact. But unfortunately for us, as it happened for Hull FC a couple of weeks before, it’s managed to get into the system.
“We have to deal with the immediate situation, which is the health and the welfare of those people who tested positive and their families, then ensure that the rest of us are safe moving forward.”
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