Chris Hankinson was named Toulouse Olympique’s Player Of The Season at a glittering Garden Party alongside the great and the good of city society.
Ballet dancers, fire-breathers, business leaders and socialites enjoyed champagne and fireworks, bringing a flamboyant end to a bittersweet first season for the French club in Super League, which ended in relegation.
“I’m just a lad from Wigan,” Hankinson told League Express.
“I’ve never experienced anything like it, and I’ve been to a lot of end-of-season presentation nights.”
The 28-year-old centre picked up the top honour after a strong debut campaign with the Olympians, which saw him reach an 80 per-cent-plus successful goal-kicking rate and score five tries.
He said: “It really was a special night, they know how to put a show on in Toulouse and they really went for it.
“In terms of the commercial and hospitality side, they really have got something special here and some other clubs would do well to have a look at it.
“A club like this belongs at the top level because of everything they do off the pitch and the incredible potential it has.
“No offence to any other clubs, but I can’t see the potential that Toulouse has anywhere else. This is a massive sporting city and this is the way our sport should be heading.
“There were so many family-run businesses at the presentation night, and then the big corporate companies, there is huge commercial support and the sky is the limit for this club.
“Even on match days the club puts on a bit of a spectacle rather than just 80 minutes of Rugby League.
“They create an event and the stadium and facilities are second to none at Stade Ernest Wallon.”
Hankinson was pleased to receive the trophy but admitted it could have gone to several others who all performed well “in the circumstances”.
He added: “Matty Russell, Daniel Alvaro and Olly Ashall-Bott are just a few of the others who must have been in with a shout.
“There is a lot of pride within the playing group of how we came together, particularly because of the adversity we suffered just before the season started, losing our captain and fullback and desperately seeking new recruits at the worst possible time.
“To put in some of those early performances, where we took the likes of Wigan all the way to the end of a one-point defeat, and so many games where we were close to the points but just missed out, was incredible.
“On another day we might have closed those games out, but you learn from every experience and the club has had a sniff of Super League and there is a real hunger to return and do things right.
“It’s a shame that things didn’t go our way on the pitch this season but hopefully the club will come straight back up and will be there to stay.
“Nothing is gifted, it’s going to be tough to bounce straight back up. It’s not all just Leigh and Featherstone, other teams are recruiting well and it’s going to be more competitive than ever.”
Whether or not Hankinson will remain on the Toulouse journey remains to be seen because he has a similar Super League exclusivity clause in his current contract as his wing partner Matty Russell.
“I love this club and I would love to be a part of what they are trying to do here so we’re having talks and the situation should be resolved in the next week.
“I’m keen to keep playing under our coach, I’ve got a good relationship with Sylvain, I like the way he puts the French style into the game although we had no option but to grind out the games early in the season when we lost Jon and Killer (Johnathon Ford and Mark Kheirallah).
“You can see his ambition and how he wants the game to be played, he won’t stop until he achieves his goals, and that goes for defensive coach Rémi Casty too, he’s brought a lot to the club with his experience and advice.
“Sylvain has got a real level-headed temperament and it comes as a surprise when he suddenly goes serious, it really captures the attention of the players.
“You can see what he wants to achieve and he won’t stop until he gets it.”
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