Catalans Dragons are in a race against time to complete enough fixtures to qualify for Super League’s play-offs.
The cancellation of last week’s home game against Hull FC and today’s planned match against Warrington because of seven positive Covid tests at the club has put the Dragons under immense pressure to reach the required 15-game threshold for top-four contention.
A second round of tests on Saturday night revealed two further Covid cases and, since then, the RFL and Super League have agreed to add an additional fixture, the previously postponed game away to Salford next Monday, leaving the Dragons, who have played twelve games so far, with four games in which to reach the required level.
Coach Steve McNamara told League Express: “We’re really frustrated but we’ve got to hold our nerve. We go through another round of tests on Tuesday and hopefully we’ll get the all-clear. We’re constantly working as hard as we can to stay healthy and we’ll continue to do so until the end of the season.
“We are due to play Salford away next Monday, then back it up at home on Thursday against St Helens and hopefully we will be back on track.
“So as devastating and frustrating as it is for everybody, and it clearly is, not being able to train or play, I will not allow our focus to slip and the season to fall away.
“We know we can compete, there’s a Grand Final in four weeks on a Friday night and we want to be in it.”
McNamara said his players were becoming increasingly frustrated at the stop-start nature of the season, adding: “We’d won three games on the bounce, we were back in form and that’s happened to us three times this season, so to get stopped in our tracks once again is difficult.
“We are clearly one of the teams competing to win the Grand Final. We’re in the top four now as things stand and we would be here under the old points system regardless of the number of games we have played.”
Suggestions that Catalans would be looking at the last-minute cancellation of the Leeds home game in March with a view to claiming the points were refuted by McNamara, who said: “I’m not into any of that. There’s enough out there for the RFL and Super League to deal with. Lots of people are trying to jockey themselves into position at the moment and I’m not into that at all, all I’m focused on is making sure we’re fit and healthy for the next game and we perform well.
“All of that other stuff is for other people. For us, as a club, as a team, not once have we flinched about what is required of us and we will not flinch again.
“We do what we get told to do and now it’s to get tested again on Tuesday. If we’re all good we get back to training on Wednesday and get ready for Salford on Monday.
“I won’t get distracted by any of that sort of stuff.”
McNamara said he had been impressed by the efforts being made behind the scenes to get the 2020 season completed, adding: “Rhodri Jones at Super League and Karen Moorhouse at the RFL are constantly working with us, as I’m sure they are with the other teams, to try and fulfil our obligations and make it a meaningful competition.
“It’s heating up now and many people are working tirelessly to get it done.
“The players are clearly frustrated, but if we manage to get to that Grand Final in four weeks’ time all of this will have been worth it.
“You’ve got to be prepared to do whatever is needed and make sacrifices if you’re going to give yourself that opportunity and hopefully we will.”
Catalans President Bernard Guasch, who has had to fund bio-secure travel on a private jet this season, admitted to local newspapers that the financial burden could become “unmanageable” if Covid continues to affect Super League in 2021.
He told Perpignan’s L’Indépendant newspaper: “I am worried about the end of this season but also, and especially, the opening months of next season.”
He said playing games with reduced crowds or behind closed doors, was simply not viable, adding: “Without paying support and sponsorship, without cash flow, it will become even more complicated or even impossible to manage.”
French authorities last week tightened restrictions on attendances, reducing crowd limits to 1,000, and adding night-time curfews to many cities, including Perpignan.
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