Whoever wins the Super League Grand Final this year will have done it the hard way, according to Catalans Dragons coach Steve McNamara.
The former England coach said he has never seen such a season of adversity with injuries and suspensions blighting the game from top to bottom.
He told League Express: “It’s been a tougher season than most for all clubs this year. Everybody’s trying to find their own way to get to the end of the season as healthily as they can.
“Last year wasn’t plain sailing, but we and Saints were on a roll and although we had injury setbacks it was nothing like this season.
“It’s been a completely different competition and you have to find different ways in each season to deal with what’s thrown at you.
“For us it’s been a real fight to try to play consistently well and win enough games to stay around the top of the table and we’ve learned a lot about ourselves during this period.
“The teams that are healthiest at the end of the competition will be the ones who progress. Things can swing dramatically in the next few weeks and there a lot of twists and turns left yet.
“I’m not sure where we will finish because it is so unpredictable so we have to focus on winning as many games as possible and see where it takes us.”
Catalans may have lost winger Arthur Romano for the rest of the season as he undergoes scans on knee ligament damage, while Benjamin Jullien limped from the pitch in the first half of last week’s defeat at Castleford Tigers with a groin injury.
Winger Fouad Yaha will return to the Dragons’ squad for Saturday’s visit of Salford Red Devils, along with Samisoni Langi and Gil Dudson.
More welcome news for the Dragons would be the return of captain Ben Garcia, after twice sustaining a serious ear injury.
McNamara said: “Ben has a chance of being back this week, we’ve been more careful this time around and he gets the green light this week. He’s in great spirits and he’s ready to play.”
Meanwhile, Catalans have secured the services of young French international halfback César Rougé for a further two seasons.
McNamara has reiterated his call for more support for the game in France.
Asked by Sky Sports presenter Brian Carney whether he thought the UK game had “an obligation to look after, protect and nurture the French game,” McNamara said: “I think the whole game across the world has: the NRL, Australia, everybody.
“With a real collective push, working together, we can produce something really special.”
McNamara told League Express that he felt it was important that the debate was opened up as the game looks ahead alongside new strategic partners IMG and he believed French teams should be central for future growth of the entire sport.
He said, “It’s a big enough issue to create a debate. Some decisions are going to be made shortly to create the future path for Rugby League.
“IMG are going to help create that path for the foreseeable future and the whole topic around this is worthy of a debate.
“Enough has been said on it now, we’ve made our stand and stated our viewpoint and it’s up to everyone else to have their say. It’s a healthy debate and everyone’s opinions should be heard.”
The above content is also available in the regular weekly edition of League Express, on newsstands every Monday in the UK and as a digital download. Click here for more details.