Hands off my Dragons, says Mac

Catalans Dragons coach Steve McNamara has issued a hands-off warning to any NRL clubs who may try to take advantage of the coronavirus crisis to poach his overseas signings.
Speculation arose in the media recently that a decision by NRL chiefs to resume playing on May 28th may tempt Super League stars to jump ship and head down under, taking advantage of a potential legal loophole in player contracts.
It was suggested that any material changes to contracts with Super League clubs (such as a drop in wages because of a virus-suspended season) could trigger a get-out clause in their current agreements and allow them to take up lucrative offers down under.
“I can only speak for this club, but that won’t be happening with us,” McNamara told League Express.
The former England coach has experience of coaching in the NRL with Sydney Roosters and New Zealand Warriors, but he isn’t expecting any of his current Catalans squad to request a move.
He said: “We’re preparing our team and our squad for the resumption of Super League and they are our players. I can’t speak for any other clubs, but it seems like a fair few people have had a bit too much time on their hands and have dreamt up some interesting scenarios, and things that might happen. But back in the real world our season is ready and raring to go again and we are all preparing for that.”
McNamara agrees that any extension to the 2020 season could create contractual difficulties with players at the end of their current deals, but he believes common sense would prevail to allow any player to finish the season with their current club.
He said: “November 30th is the date when players finish their contracts so, in an ideal world, we’ll have everything wrapped up by then. But if the season runs on any longer, it will create some other issues to deal with.
“All the potential scenarios are things that can be dealt with, however, if there’s some common sense and consideration by all. The priority at the moment is getting the game up and running as soon as we can.”
McNamara had previously set May 4th as a target to resume training at Stade Gilbert Brutus, but French President Emmanuel Macron’s decision to extend lockdown conditions until May 11th has forced him to delay those plans.
“We’ve moved our whole programme back a week, but again we will have to wait for further instructions to see if it’s possible to start training on that day,” said McNamara.
“We’re putting pretty strong plans in place to ensure it’s a really safe environment when the players do come back. All we can do is await the relevant instruction from the French and English authorities before those things can happen.”
McNamara accepts that some games may have to be played behind closed doors in the initial stages of the season’s resumption.
“There will have to be some consideration as to playing without crowds. It’s clear that the whole game relies on paying spectators to finance the sport, but it may be that, for a short period of time, we play games behind closed doors just to get the season running again.
“I’m sure the RFL and Super League are looking at finding a way to navigate the game through that period, if it has to happen.
“But no-one’s really sure at this stage whether we will be able to have small groups of players training, never mind 26 players going at each other on the pitch. There’s so much to consider.”
McNamara said his players had been “model professionals” in the current circumstances.
“In terms of keeping fit and healthy as professional athletes they have been superb. It’s a little different in France because you are only allowed out of your house once a day, for one hour, within one kilometre of your home.
“That sounds pretty restrictive, but it gives players a rigid structure around which to build their individual programmes. And sticking to rules and times helps keep you sane.
“Another bonus is that throughout Super League we’re going to have some very fit players coming back when we eventually get going again.
“There are a few players across the clubs who were looking like missing out on the majority of the season, but it now looks like they’ll get to play all of it, whenever that is. Most clubs will be looking at full-strength squads when we get back, which will be great.”
McNamara said the only Catalans player showing early signs of struggle during lockdown was former NRL star James Maloney, whose constant chatter and fidgeting has been an integral part of life at the Dragons since he arrived at the club.
The coach added: “Jimmy has been that bored, he’s getting on his own nerves which is a challenge in itself. The only person we really feel sorry for at the moment is Jimmy’s wife. But seriously, everyone’s been really good, they’ve all had their own ups and downs and days when things haven’t gone that well.
“The weather hasn’t been too good in France for the past week or so and that makes a big difference to life in that part of the world.
“We’re all guessing at the moment and wishing and keeping our fingers crossed. All you can really do is plan to your best ability and be ready for when the green light goes on. That’s what we’re working on at the Dragons.
“The aim is to complete the season. Someone’s going to go all the way and win a Challenge Cup or a Grand Final, it’s still there to be had and everyone’s got to keep their focus on that.”