By STEVE BRADY
Josh Drinkwater’s dream return to the south of France to team up with NRL star James Maloney could be the key to Catalans Dragons’ perennial search for consistent winning form.
Drinkwater is “buzzing” at the prospect of an all-Aussie halfback partnership at Super League’s most multi-cultural club. And after three weeks of pre-season training he can already see great potential for the 2020 squad.
“I’ve settled back in straight away,” Drinkwater told League Express.
“It feels like I’ve never been away, the place is as good as ever and all the boys are pretty much the same as I remember them. It’s good to be back.
“It’s my second time here and, although everything seems the same, there is a different mood at training. It’s been made very clear to all of us what is required if we are going to take this club forward.”
Despite some match-winning performances in 2018, which helped the Dragons reach Challenge Cup final victory, Drinkwater was released from his first short spell in Perpignan to make way for Matty Smith and he spent last season at Hull KR. But when Smith failed to establish himself in the Catalans side Drinkwater was asked if he could make a swift return to Stade Gilbert Brutus on a two-year contract.
There are no regrets from Drinkwater.
“I understand, Rugby League is a business and these things happen,” he said.
“I’m just happy to be back and it’s pretty clear that I never wanted to leave.”
And while he’s delighted to meet up again with former team-mates, there are two major additions to the squad which he believes could make the difference next season.
“Sam Tomkins and James Maloney have been brought in since the last time I was here,” said Drinkwater.
“They are obviously both very skilful and experienced players and you can see the difference they make at training.
“I’d never met Jimmy before, but he’s really easy to get along with. We’re building a relationship at training and off the field as well we’re getting to know each other.
“We haven’t done much together as halfbacks so far because training at this stage involves left on right and we’re opposing each other in 13 on 13 sessions b. But over the next few weeks I’m sure we’ll be moving on to linking up together.
“It’s pretty obvious that we’ve got some good leaders in the squad with Sam and Jimmy coming in; they’re both big talkers, but also captain Rémi Casty and Jason Baitieri are very vocal, so we don’t lack any direction.
“There’s a lot of noise at training, which is a good thing. And even though we don’t all speak the same language we know what is being asked of us.
“We’re a multi-cultural team with a solid base of French players mixing with team-mates from all over the world, so it’s important that we communicate and it is stressed to us when we join the club that we should make efforts to learn the language and be part of the culture.
“That helps create respect within the squad when the local players see their team-mates from overseas trying to fit in and communicate.
“We’re a Catalan team in France and we want to represent this region the best we can. We’re all buying into it and it’s not a cliquey club. I’ve played at clubs where there have been cliques, but you don’t see that here.
“You’ve got Aussies and Brits all hanging out with the French boys. Even though I don’t always understand fully what they’re saying, we have a good relationship and all the players fully understand what we’re doing and the importance of pulling together.
“The big word is consistency. Over the years Catalans have had a reputation for playing strongly at home and sometimes struggling when they travel to England and we’re all aware of it. It’s something that we’re working on and all we can do at this stage is build that consistency into our training.
“We’ve been working hard so far, it’s our fourth week of pre-season and it’s already been made very clear what the coaches are expecting of us next year.
“As a team we’ve got a lot of talent across the board, there are lots of individual skills and the key is in gelling it all together.
“I’m just very happy to be returning to the club. Winning the Challenge Cup was a moment I will never forget and hopefully we can have more moments like that.
“I’m already loving the pre-season with the boys and can’t wait to run out again in front of the passionate Catalans fans.”
President Bernard Guasch has announced that the Dragons will hold a training session at Elite One club Lézignan on January 5th.
The occasion will mark the opening of the new stand at Les Sangliers’ Windmill ground, following the fire that devastated the historic old wooden stand last season.
The visit of the Dragons will form part of a day of celebrations for Lézignan and precede the club’s league fixture against Limoux.
© League Express (Mon 2nd Dec 2019)