In contrast to Steve McNamara’s claims about Huddersfield Giants’ attitude towards French clubs, Leeds Rhinos CEO Gary Hetherington has declared his unequivocal support for French teams in Super League.
Hetherington watched his side’s 20-6 defeat to Toulouse Olympique the week before last and declared his admiration and ambition for Rugby League in France.
The 68-year-old Headingley boss told League Express: “It is absolutely vital for the future of the entire sport that we nurture and encourage the French game.”
Hetherington is a huge admirer of the efforts being made by Catalans Dragons and Toulouse Olympique and he added, “Rugby League has a rich heritage in France and it was booming at one point without any government support at all. In fact the government banned it, as we all know.
“So it’s a remarkable story how people have preserved Rugby League in France against all the odds. The success of the Catalans Dragons in building a strong team and a successful club with good support is a great credit to them.
“And the incredible efforts made by Toulouse Olympique to work their way up into Super League and become a convincing force in the competition also deserve our support.”
Hetherington admits he would like to see two French teams remaining in the top-flight, adding: “Two teams gives the sport in France a real opportunity to take the game forward, especially with the unique opportunity of a World Cup being held there in 2025.
“All of a sudden, we are seeing government support for French Rugby League, which is hugely significant, and we need to support that.
“The game in France is on the threshold of a huge opportunity to at last gain the recognition that it was denied for so many years.
“France has a huge role to play in the future of professional Rugby League and, as Super League Europe, our intention was always to incorporate a European presence, primarily in France, and it’s fair to say that English supporters really enjoy coming to Perpignan, and now Toulouse.
“In that respect both clubs have added value to the competition and that should be applauded. There’s a lot of work yet to be done to maximise those benefits, but there are some really exciting prospects in store, not least the World Cup.
“So I’m very supportive of our role in helping Rugby League develop in France and there are some very exciting times ahead.”
Hetherington recognises that there were some figures in the game who are anxious to see a financial return from the inclusion of two French sides in Super League, but he urged patience, insisting that there were “significant commercial opportunities” ahead.
He said, “Of course there needs to be a contribution to the commercial value of the sport from the French which, up to now, has not really been evident.
“Primarily, that would involve the creation of a French television deal. You would like to think that having two teams in the competition there would be more chance of achieving that.
“With the support and the involvement of IMG in shaping the future of the sport, France obviously is a project and there could well be some significant commercial opportunities coming out of French Rugby League in the future.”
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