Catalans Dragons have got the green light from the French Government to play home fixtures in front of small crowds at Stade Gilbert Brutus.
As exclusively predicted in League Express two months ago, the Dragons will be allowed to host Super League fixtures in Perpignan in front of sponsors and season ticket holders, to the delight of club officials.
Crowds of up to 5,000 will be allowed to assemble from July, with the Dragons lined up to be the first professional sports club in France to benefit from the new rule. Toulouse Olympique would also be at the forefront if the Championship season were allowed to restart.
The Dragons had been prepared to camp out in England for the whole month of August because of French restrictions, but the relaxation of lockdown laws next month will allow them to play at home.
Coach Steve McNamara was delighted with the news, although he admits it would force a rethink of the proposed season re-start in August.
“That’s thrown the cat among the pigeons,” he told League Express.
“We were fully prepared to stay for a month in the UK, but it seems we won’t have to now. It’s a really positive announcement, not just for us but for the whole game. In England, they generally follow whatever announcements are made in France a couple of weeks later.
“Most of the restrictions that have been made, and then lifted, here in France have been mirrored in the UK, so it’s not just great news for us, I think the whole competition will soon be benefiting.
“Obviously, this will have some impact on how the first month of the season pans out now. If we can play at home – which we know we can now as we expect there to be no restrictions in place regarding quarantine in August – then of course it’s better that we play at home.
“There has been a lot of work done looking at fixtures and Sky television’s coverage of games in the first month. And we’ve always said we’d do whatever it takes in a forever changing situation. We were prepared to play our games overseas, but once again things have changed overnight and everyone needs to have a good look at things again.
“I’m sure the next set of plans will have to be adjusted again, but we all have to adapt and we’re all open to change. The positive news is that it’s going in the right direction and every new announcement is a step forward, not back.”
McNamara returned to France last week and said he was impressed by his players’ professional attitude during lockdown. He said: “It’s good to get back and see the players and their families. The players are all in good condition, they look lean and fit. There is only so much of a particular type of training you can do in lockdown, but we are starting to see gymnasiums and other forms of training facilities opening up here in France, so we’re doing our best to make sure the players take full advantage.”