Catalans Dragons enhance their French identity with Super League history made

CATALANS have named eight French players among their opening 13 squad numbers for the first time in their Super League history.

Les Dracs’ vintage 2024 has a distinctly French flavour including Théo Fages at scrum-half, Arthur Mourgue at fullback and French international captain Ben Garcia in his usual loose-forward and club skipper role.

“It has always been the ambition of this club to recruit and develop home grown talent, it is the foundation for any successful club,” said coach Steve McNamara.

McNamara stressed that starting positions within the playing group remain flexible and subject to departures or recruitment at any stage of the season but he was pleased to see a growing French influence within the first 17 squad numbers.

The Dragons welcomed back one of their “most important signings” to their pre-season training camp in Spain last week, a man tasked with the training and development of young French players at the club.

But it wasn’t former star fullback Sam Tomkins (who joined the coaching staff at training sessions at the Torremirona Golf and Spa complex near Figueres) but former director of sport Neil McIlroy whose impact could be felt most as the Dragons prepare for their 19th season in Super League and the long-term future of the club.

McIlroy, a former Scottish international rugby union prop-forward, spent just one season last year in charge of sports administration at Stade Gilbert Brutus before switching back to the 15-a-side code in a similar role at Top 14 side Montpellier.

A club takeover and influx of new staff meant McIlroy lasted just one month in his new job and he was looking at all options until a surprise call from Les Dracs.

McIlroy told League Express: “After a challenging period and a very short stint at Montpellier, I was flattered that the Dragons contacted me to discuss the possibility of returning to the club.

“I had opportunities abroad, but after discussions with Steve McNamara and Bernard Guasch, I am delighted to commit to the Dragons in a three-year project.”

Coach McNamara described McIlroy’s initial appointment in 2022 as “one of the most important signings the club has made” in terms of the impact he would have on the sports admin side of the organisation.

Among his duties, McIlroy will oversee the junior and reserves section of the club, including the successful Campus programme where young players combine their athletic development alongside educational skills at local colleges.

Club president Bernard Guasch said: “We had an exceptional 2023 season, and Neil is no stranger to what we achieved. We knew his value when we recruited him, and he brought his experience, expertise and professionalism.

“When we learned about his situation at Montpellier, we let him know that his position was still available to resume his duties where he left them. We want to let him continue his work in structuring the club, and we are very happy to welcome him back to the Dragons.”

McIlroy himself added: “The welcome back from players and staff warmed my heart and reminded me of the values of this sport and this club. The transition should be relatively simple and I will quickly get back into the groove, as if I had never left.

“Even with some changes in the staff and squad, the club’s ambitions remain intact, and I am very happy to contribute to the growth and future success of the club.”

Catalans squad numbers 2024: 1 Arthur Mourgue, 2 Tom Davies, 3 Arthur Romano, 4 Matthieu Laguerre, 5 Fouad Yaha, 6 Jayden Nikorima, 7 Théo Fages, 8 Mike McMeeken, 9 Michael McIlorum, 10 Julian Bousquet, 11 Tariq Sims, 12 Paul Séguier, 13 Ben Garcia, 14 Alrix Da Costa, 15 Bayley Sironen, 16 Romain Navarrete, 17 César Rougé, 18 Ugo Tison, 19 Tanguy Zenon, 20 Chris Satae, 21 Matt Ikuvalu, 22 Siua Taukeiaho, 23 Jordan Dezaria, 24 Tom Johnstone, 25 Loan Castano, 26 Manu Ma’u, 27 Jordan Abdull.