Season League season preview: Toulouse Olympique

LEAGUE EXPRESS previews the new season for a club that has had a difficult pre-season.


Toulouse Olympique suffered a massive blow just over a week ago when it confirmed that its iconic stand-off Johnathon Ford would depart the club because of his anti-vaccination stance, which conflicts with French government policy whereby all sportsmen and women must be fully vaccinated to play professional sport.

That left a gaping hole in coach Sylvain Houles’ squad and it was set to be deepened if and when the departure of Mark Kheirallah was confirmed too.

Apart from that, Toulouse have lost the services on the field of the former French captain Rémi Casty, who now, having just celebrated his 37th birthday, has joined the club’s coaching staff.

They have also lost wingman Jy Hitchcox to Leigh Centurions and centre or winger Bastien Ader, who didn’t play a single game for Toulouse in 2021, to the French Elite level club Limoux Grizzlies. Youngster Jordan Flovie is another who will play in the French competition in 2022, in his case with AS Carcassonne.


Toulouse have made a limited number of signing for the new season so far, relying for the most part on the squad that went through the Championship season unbeaten in 2021 to retain their place in Super League in 2022.

James Cunningham, who will join the club from Huddersfield Giants, is perhaps their most notable signing.

Cunningham, 27, has had a varied career, beginning with his native Hull FC, for whom the hooker made his Super League debut in 2012. Unable to oust long-time Hull hooker Danny Houghton, he had a loan spell with London Broncos in 2014 and left the club in 2015 to join the Broncos permanently, playing a key role in their season back in Super League in 2019. He then joined Toronto Wolfpack but moved to Huddersfield for the 2021 season, where he played eleven games under Ian Watson. Toulouse will benefit from Cunningham’s undoubted utility value and experience.

In the backs, Toulouse have signed centre Chris Hankinson from Wigan Warriors and winger Matty Russell from Leigh Centurions, both of whom will give added squad depth to the club, with Hankinson’s ability to kick goals also proving useful if, as expected, Mark Kheirallah does leave Toulouse.

In the forwards, Toulouse have snapped up Gadwin Springer, who played for Featherstone Rovers in 2021, but whose career started in the Toulouse Academy before he was signed by the Catalans and made his Super League debut in 2014. Now aged 28, he spent two seasons with the Dragons, four seasons with Castleford and two with Toronto Wolfpack. He started the 2021 season with Halifax but joined Featherstone in mid-season.

Toulouse have also signed former Catalans prop forward Lambert Belmas from Lézignan. Unfortunately Belmas snapped his Achilles tendon two days after his signing was announced but the club has committed to honouring his contract and helping his recovery from what could be a career-ending injury. So far, he hasn’t been given a squad number.


Johnathon Ford was the player around whom everything revolved and now that he has departed and if we assume that Mark Kheirallah will also not play for Toulouse in 2022, then the squad looks to be seriously short in a playmaking sense.

Assuming there are no injuries in the squad, the likely spine players for their opening fixture against Huddersfield will probably be Tony Gigot at fullback, James Cunningham and Lucas Albert at halfback and Lloyd White or Eloi Pelissier at hooker.

Anthony Marion, who is nominally a loose forward, can also play in the halves and was frequently Ford’s halfback partner in 2021. He was also the second-choice goalkicker behind Kheirallah last season.

But the club can’t afford any significant injuries to those players and ideally they will need a replacement for Ford who can guide them around the pitch although at this stage of pre-season it is difficult to know where that player will come from.


The Toulouse pack was far too strong for their opponents in the Championship last season but inevitably they will find Super League a much sterner test.

Of the six players who hold the starting squad numbers for their pack, four of them are aged over 30, with Harrison Hansen the oldest at the age of 36. Romain Navarrete and Anthony Marion are the two youngest at 27 and 28 respectively.

But there is plenty of backup, with Maxime Puech, Joe Bretherton, Mitch Garbutt, Justin Sangaré and Gadwin Springer all battling for the prop positions, while most of them can also play in the back row.

Joseph Paulo will be a contender for a backrow or loose forward position, as will youngster Hugo Pezet.


Toulouse suffered a blow in their pre-season game with Catalans last week when centre Mathieu Jussaume suffered a broken fibula that is likely to keep him out of action for between two and three months.

But that will give opportunities to other players, in particular Chris Hankinson, who will be keen to claim a starting spot in the centres alongside Junior Vaivai. Former rugby union player Guy Armitage, who came into Rugby League initially with London Broncos, will also hope for a starting spot, while another option at centre is Hugo Pezet.

On the wing, the squad numbers suggest that Kiwi Latrell Schaumkel and Frenchman Paul Marcon will be the starting players, while the experienced Matty Russell, whose Super League career has taken in Wigan, Hull FC, Warrington Wolves, Toronto Wolfpack and Leigh Centurions, will be a more than useful replacement for either of those players.


In the squad numbers declared by the club so far, Toulouse is top heavy with older players, with only one player – Hugo Pezet – under the age of 22.

It would be surprising, however, if more young players were not called into the squad from the squad that represents Toulouse in the French Elite League.


Like any promoted club, Toulouse’s overriding ambition will be to survive in their first season in Super League.

Last season they were clearly too good for the other clubs in the Championship but whether that will translate into success in Super League remains to be seen. Their opening game against Huddersfield Giants will tell us a lot about how they are likely to fare and how much impact the departure of Johnathan Ford is likely to have.

Squad numbers: 1 Mark Kheirallah, 2 Latrell Schaumkel, 3 Junior Vaivai, 4 Mathieu Jussaume, 5 Paul Marcon, 7 Lucas Albert, 8 Romain Navarrete, 9 Lloyd White, 10 Harrison Hansen, 11 Andrew Dixon, 12 Dom Peyroux, 13 Anthony Marion, 14 Eloi Pelissier, 15 Maxime Puech, 16 Joe Bretherton, 17 Joseph Paulo, 18 Mitch Garbutt, 19 James Cunningham, 20 Ilias Bergal, 21 Chris Hankinson, 22 Gadwin Springer, 23 Justin Sangare, 24 Guy Armitage, 25 Matty Russell, 26 Hugo Pezet, 31 Tony Gigot

Ins: James Cunningham (Huddersfield Giants), Gadwin Springer (Featherstone Rovers), Matty Russell (Leigh Centurions), Chris Hankinson (Wigan Warriors), Lambert Belmas (Lézignan)

Outs: Bastien Ader (Limoux Grizzlies), Jy Hitchcox (Leigh Centurions), Rémi Casty (retired), Johnathon Ford (released), Jordan Flovie (AS Carcassonne)

Coaching team

Head Coach: Sylvain Houles
Assistant Coach: Christophe Toustou
Assistant Coach 2: Rémi Casty
Head of Performance: Adam Innes
Strength and Conditioning Coach: Jonathon Green & David Pellier
Head of Medical : Cédric Bellard
Doctors: Cédric Bellard, Richard Lawrance
Physios : Lucas Hoguet, Clément Ricolleau, Alexandre Battut, Mark Oxley
Masseurs : Sandrine Lacassagne, Benoit Quintanar, Zoé Levi, Danielle Hope
Kit Man: Thierry Levade, Valu Bentley
Reserve Team Head Coach: Sébastien Raguin
Reserve Team Assistant: Bastien Costes
Reserve Team Juniors Coach:
Women’s Head Coach : Ali Gutierrez

Club management

Chairman: Bernard Sarrazain
Chief Executive: Cédric Garcia
Commercial Director: Patrice Martinez
Head of Media & Communication: Mathilde Bacq
Stadium Manager: Jean-Luc Brumont
Finance Manager: Isabelle Masurier
Head of Community Programme: Jean-Eric Ducuing
Head of Youth and Development: Stéphanie Luther

Club Colours

Home shirt: Purple/Dark Blue shirt with pink details
Away shirt: White shirt with blue flammes

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