IT’S BEEN a lonely three weeks of pre-season training at Catalans Dragons so far, but all that will change with the return of their French internationals today (Monday).
Captain Benjamin Garcia and his fellow twelve World Cup team-mates will re-join their club colleagues as preparations step up for Super League 2023.
It will be the first meet-up between the French players and new signings Tom Johnstone and Manu Ma’u, although they will have to wait for the arrival of Australia-based recruits from Sydney Roosters, Sio Siua Taukeiaho and Adam Keighran, and the England contingent of Sam Tomkins, Michael McIlorum and Mike McMeeken, who return to duty in the new year.
Rumours still persist that Catalans could be adding another Rooster to their roster with a daring bid for NRL star prop Jared Waerea-Hargreaves after Dragons’ General Manager Alex Chan admitted that the Dragons are still seeking “a middle” following the departure of four prop forwards from the squad.
Regular frontrower Julian Bousquet, who missed World Cup duty with France because of surgery on a knee injury, has successfully returned to training but there is still room for another prop.
Whether or not this will be another overseas recruit remains to be seen, but the future of the Dragons will be increasingly French according to the club’s new Director Of Sport, 54-year-old former Scottish rugby union prop forward Neil McIlroy.
McIlroy has spoken to media in Perpignan, outlining the club’s ambitions to increase the number of French players in the squad, which has always been the plan, but this has become more urgent following statements from RFL strategic partners IMG that any future participation by French clubs in Super League will be subject to minimum levels of French players in their squads.
That number is yet to be revealed, but both Toulouse Olympique (who have ambitions to return to the top-flight) and the Dragons are taking immediate steps.
McIlroy told local radio and press: “I didn’t come with a magic wand to create a revolution. There is the short term and the long term.
“The short is the end of the contracts of current players and the question is whether there is enough quality in France to replace them.
“In the long term, the arrival of young French professionals is more like an elevator.
“At the moment young French players are arriving just to replace the other French players. In the future, we want young French people to climb the stairs and replace those from overseas.”
McIlroy spent nine years at French Top 14 union side ASM Clermont and there were further links between the Dragons and the 15-a-side code recently when coaching staff teamed up with French rugby union side Toulon.
Coach McNamara and his colleagues spent three days at the Provencal club sharing tactics and training techniques.