Sylvain Houles and Johnathon Ford defiant on Toulouse Olympique recruitment

Toulouse Olympique’s modest recruitment drive for their debut season in Super League has left many pundits predicting a swift return to the Championship for the top-flight debutants.

Coach Sylvain Houles has drafted in James Cunningham, Matty Russell, Chris Hankinson and Gadwin Springer to complete his 27-man squad – hardly the headline signings made by fellow French club Catalans Dragons when they made their Super League debut in 2006 with a side bristling with big-name NRL stars.

And while Houles is happy with his new signings, he admits “it has been difficult to recruit more of the right players for us” since the club gained promotion in October, leaving bookmakers offering short odds on his side’s relegation prospects.

But that is adding fuel to the fire of ambition in south-west France.

“That’s for other people to talk about,” said Toulouse captain Johnathon Ford.

“It doesn’t do us any harm; if anything it’s an added incentive to do well, not that we need one.”

At 6’4” Ford stands out at scrum-half on the pitch, but it is in the dressing room and training ground where his imposing presence is most felt.

An Australian of Tongan and Irish descent, 32-year-old “Jonno” (as he is known to everyone at the club) is in his tenth season for Toulouse since switching from Sydney Roosters in 2011.
Nobody is better placed to assess the club’s prospects in 2022 and Ford is full of confidence.

“This pre-season might feel different because we’re moving up to Super League but there is still that sense of confidence in our own abilities,” he told League Express.

“It’s not so much confidence, because you look around the dressing room and there’s plenty of that.

“It’s more an expectation; you set yourself targets and you expect to achieve them and anything less than that and you are doing yourself a disservice.

“If you’re full of worry and doubt then that’s all you will get. You need to have confidence in yourself and your team-mates but the most important thing is expectation.

“Of course, you have to train hard, get the reps under your belt and listen to the coaches, then the confidence is there and we all believe we can be successful in Super League.

“The level of expectation within the group has increased massively. Bringing in Joseph Paulo and Dominic Peyroux from Saints last year seemed to bring about a new understanding within the group of what we are really capable of.

“A few of the guys have been with us from the start and they’ve always had that drive. But the gradual addition of quality and experience has changed the vibe entirely and we are evolving for the better.

“No matter what people say, we will be competitive next season, because it’s what we expect of ourselves.

“We’ve always been a confident and ambitious club and we’ve backed it up on the pitch, sometimes against massive odds.

“We’re facing massive challenges but that’s what we do and that’s how I live my life. I try to continue to evolve and improve in every aspect. I’m always searching for a better way to do everything, finding those tiny incremental improvements, be a better bloke, a better person, a better trainer, father and husband; all of those things add up.”

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