Catalans Dragons want to take their Super League derby against Toulouse Olympique on the road to the home of French football giants Olympique Marseille next season.
The Orange Vélodrome is the second-largest football stadium in France (behind Paris’ Stade De France) with a capacity attendance figure of 67,394 and Dragons’ chiefs are keen to take their first ever top-flight game against Toulouse to new audiences with Marseille as the preferred target.
France’s second-biggest city is over 200 miles and three-and-a-half hours by road from Perpignan and Catalans’ management are confident they can attract a large attendance for the game.
The Dragons created a record Super League regular-round attendance figure of 31,555 spectators for their 2019 fixture against Wigan Warriors at Barcelona’s Nou Camp Stadium and club chiefs are hoping to attract similar numbers to Marseille, although details can only be finalised once Super League fixture lists are revealed on 25 November.
A Dragons spokesman told League Express: “It has always been our ambition to take Rugby League on the road to different cities and different venues.
“The Nou Camp game was a huge success, breaking records and promoting the sport to new audiences, and it would be difficult to top that. But the Orange Vélodrome is an incredible state-of-the-art stadium, famous for its passionate fans and their noisy, colourful support. It would be an incredible dream to be able to play there in front of thousands of French fans.”
Coach Steve McNamara’s Catalans’ squad will begin pre-season training for 2022 on November 29th and the club is still hoping that star Australian halfback Mitchell Pearce will be joining them on a three-year contract.
Pearce has lodged an official request to be released from the remaining year of his current deal at NRL club Newcastle Knights and he met coach Adam O’Brien last week to explain his position.
The 32-year-old State of Origin star is seen by Catalans as a direct replacement for fellow veteran Aussie James Maloney, who has stepped down to play part-time in the French Championship.
The Knights have agreed to consider Pearce’s request and a decision is expected to be made early this week, although any request for a transfer fee between the clubs could delay proceedings.
If the green light is given, Pearce is expected to be in Perpignan for day one of pre-season, although the Dragons’ international players for France and England will be allowed an extra week off, following their participation in the recent international at Stade Gilbert Brutus.
Other absentees for the opening sessions could include prop-forward Julian Bousquet, who is recovering from an operation on a wrist injury, and Kiwi centre Dean Whare (torn pectoral muscle).
Catalans are in the market for a forward and threequarter following the departures of Maloney, Joel Tomkins and Jason Baitieri and further additions to the squad are expected soon.
Those recruitments will also include a new assistant coach and a performance manager, following the surprise departure of Richard Hunwicks, who has taken over that role at Leeds Rhinos on a three-year contract.
Hunwicks has been a long-term close ally of Catalans coach McNamara after they arrived together in Perpignan four years ago, having worked alongside each other in the same roles for the England international team between 2010 and 2015.
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