Catalans Dragons are facing a huge financial challenge to fund the opening exchanges of the restarted Super League season.
Club officials were relieved when last week’s revised fixture list gave them the green light to host games in Perpignan, but the opening five matches in the UK will incur “astronomical” costs according to coach Steve McNamara.
Catalans are hiring a private jet to travel to face St Helens, Castleford, Salford, Wakefield and Wigan in August and McNamara told League Express: “It’s an incredibly expensive operation.”
The former England coach added: “We did look at staying for the whole month of August in the UK but there wasn’t much difference in terms of price when you take everything into account.
“The games are all widely spaced throughout the month; it’s not like the fixture list in October and November where games are more tightly packed with midweek and back-to-back matches with short turnarounds.
“Our opening five games all have six or seven day gaps between them and we’d have to take the whole squad and all staff members and find suitable accommodation with adequate training facilities and virus control facilities at the busiest time of year for hotels in Britain.
“We’d have to arrange the testing procedures, which we already have in place in France, so the costs are astronomical. Hiring a private jet during peak holiday season, with all the other complications including bio-security measures, doesn’t come cheap.”
McNamara said players and staff were grateful for the “incredible support” being given by club owner Bernard Guasch and his board of directors.
He added: “It’s not really my remit as a coach, but I’m still very conscious of the cost to the club, particularly after this year’s massive demands on resources.
“The club has been really supportive and worked around the clock to find ways of getting us in and out of England for those early fixtures.
“It’s not like the NRL, where they can afford to fund the New Zealand Warriors to stay in Australia to complete their fixtures. We have to bear the costs ourselves and it has put a huge financial stress on the club.
“We’ve worked closely with Super League and the fixture planners about times of kick-offs and things we can do to help with the logistics. We’ve had many years’ experience of flying in and out for games, but this is different; we need more time before and after games with all the testing and virus control procedures.
“We’ll have a meal in France in the morning, fly into the UK and get to the ground earlier than normal. There will be a holding room for us and then, closer to kick-off, we’ll get down to the dressing rooms and get the game played. Then it’s the usual post-match requirements plus the safety protocols and straight back on the plane.”
McNamara says the physical toll on players this season will be “unprecedented” and it is a major cause for concern among his fellow coaches.
He added: “The fitness, health and welfare of our players is at the front of every coach’s mind at the moment, but given the circumstances this is what we have to do to get the season completed.
“We have to look after the players as best as we can and that’s the biggest reason in my opinion why I wouldn’t have implemented all the new rules into the restarted season.
“There will be such an excessive workload for players now, especially as the season progresses and fixtures pile up. We’ve already seen in the NRL a growing number of injuries to players and they are just playing week-to-week.
“We’re asking our players to double up and we’ve thrown a load of new rules at them and I think we could have waited until next season.
“I actually like the rules, I’m a big fan and it looks like it will be good for the game, but personally I would have held any changes back until the following season in Super League.”
In other news from Perpignan, 33-year-old French international forward Antoni Maria has announced he will be leaving the Dragons at the end of the season to join Elite One side Lezignan.
Maria’s move follows a similar decision by fellow team-mate Mickael Simon and coach McNamara is expecting a big finish to both players’ careers at Stade Gilbert Brutus.
He said: “Anto and Mika have decided that their time is up in Super League and they are going to give it everything they’ve got this season and then put something back into the French game.
“We have some older frontrowers in our group and some decisions had to be made in terms of the path forward for our club in those areas.”
McNamara said there were no immediate plans to announce replacements, although Salford prop Gil Dudson has agreed to join Catalans next season and Castleford’s Mike McMeeken is rumoured to be following him to Perpignan.
The coach added: “Our squad is full in terms of overseas recruits but there could be some tinkering when the season starts again between clubs with possible loan deals. But we’re not in that position right now; our seven overseas players’ quota is full, so there will be no additions to that.”
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