Catalans Dragons’ incredible journey to face Warrington Wolves last Friday proves that Super League’s French club is up for the “fantastic challenge” of the climax to this season, according to coach Steve McNamara.
The Dragons’ private jet had to be diverted from Perpignan to Toulouse because of high winds, leaving players and staff on a 150-mile road-race across southern France to catch the aeroplane. They landed at Liverpool airport with just 90 minutes to kick-off and had a brief warm-up session at the Halliwell Jones Stadium before the match, which they lost 30-16.
McNamara told League Express: “It’s just what we’ve got to do. It’s a good story for everybody else, but for us it is the reality of our job and what we have to do on a weekly basis. We’ve got to get it done, and I’ve said all along that we will do whatever it takes to get through this season.
“We’re not looking for sympathy or excuses. Ultimately we want to go out and win the competition. It’s nice that people understand the unique difficulties we face, but all we can do is focus all of our efforts on giving ourselves the best opportunity to go out and win this.
“To put in the effort that we did for large parts of that game on Friday, considering the difficulties we faced, was incredible.
“The players never flinched at any stage when we asked them to do what was necessary just to get to the game.
“They couldn’t do their normal pre-match routine, they couldn’t eat meals properly at the right times, so they didn’t have much food inside them and they had extended periods of time travelling, driving or flying, but we didn’t have one complaint from anyone.”
Following the match, Catalans flew back to Toulouse to collect their vehicles and drive back to Perpignan, arriving around 4.00am on Saturday morning.
“We all got back in one piece,” said McNamara, who also had to deal with the last-minute withdrawal of second-row Ben Jullien, who made a U-turn on the road to Toulouse when his wife went into labour and gave birth to a baby daughter.
“It was a challenge for sure,” added the coach.
“But the whole season is a fantastic challenge. It’s difficult and it’s certainly not ideal, but it’s a tremendous challenge and the next one for us is Leeds away (on Wednesday) and we are looking forward to it.
“We were disappointed that we didn’t get the result at Warrington, but we got our intent back and we’ll use that as a foundation to build on for this week.”
McNamara will have Jullien back available to play alongside three others who missed the Warrington game: “We got the usual bumps and bruises on Friday but nothing too serious,” he said, adding: “David Mead has been suffering with a hamstring but he’s close. We’ve got two games this week, Wednesday and Sunday (against Wakefield Trinity), so hopefully he’ll be available for selection as are Julian Bousquet and Sam Kasiano.
“Like most clubs, we are in that mode of games at the weekend and then midweek, so there’s not too much time for training or recovery. You need to get a little bit of work done to get the players moving again and fill their energy tanks, ready to go again.”
Sunday’s game against Wakefield will be the first of a series of five consecutive home games for the Dragons and McNamara is hoping to put a smile on the faces of supporters at Stade Gilbert Brutus.
He said, “It is important when we get back home that we do perform and give ourselves the best opportunity to try and win this competition.
“We’ve all suffered and some clubs have suffered more than others at this stage. But there are lots of twists and turns ahead. Some teams are flying high and going great having played just one game a week with no real adversity.
“Their time will come, and conversely, the teams who have had it tough will have it easier at some stage. You have to hold your nerve and hang in there because things will swing and change.”
McNamara rubbished suggestions that the winners of Super League 2020 will have an asterisk against their name because of the unique nature of this year’s competition.
He added: “For me, it won’t be an asterisk year, it should be regarded as a special type of year because the winner will be the one that has had to overcome so many difficulties.
“Of course, the clubs with the biggest squads have got an advantage as the games come thick and fast, but as we’ve seen those squads can be decimated by Covid quite quickly. You might think you are going well one week and you suddenly hit a Covid patch and you’re running with half a team.
“The biggest problem we are facing at the moment is the financial cost to the club, but in terms of playing and performing it’s what we do.
“When you come to Catalans Dragons you understand that it’s different to any other club and this year even more so.
“But that’s what you take on if you want to come here and we’re going full steam ahead. We’ll be ready to go again on Wednesday.
“We just have to play well, and play the Catalan way, and if we do that we will win games.”