Sharks bite blunted by division in France

Treiziste Diary Extra: Last year there was a lot of excitement and interest in French Rugby League surrounding the imminent arrival of a new big city club, Montpellier Sharks. So much so that Rugby League World (Issue 460, Aug 2019) ran a feature on what seemed to be an ambitious and enthusiastic project, with supporting comments from those directly involved in the creation of the club.
The news came as more of a surprise to those who follow Rugby League in Montpellier, as a team already exists there: les Diables de Montpellier (The Devils), and had done for decades, although under different names since the 1950s.
This season the Devils are playing in the fourth-tier competition, though they have competed at higher levels in the past, having reached the second division in the early 2000s under former manager and referee Serge Hickenbick, who sadly passed away last year. Their women’s team also won the Second Division championship last season.
Many of those involved with the existing club greeted the news of a new arrival on the scene with scepticism and irony which perhaps given the way the situation has developed since, was justified.
Having initially been touted as a new entrant to the Elite 1 level, and with a host of big-name signings also rumoured, the reality was somewhat different.
The Sharks eventually took up a place in the third division at the start of this season, and also minus the big-name signings. The club website has also remained static, with few, if any updates being posted.
To the frustration of the Devils, the ‘new kids on the block’ may have attracted the interest of the media, but have not delivered anything in return. Success on the field looks a distant dream for the Sharks: the club have already forfeited two games and lost others, and players are departing.
Yet they have managed to get the support of private partners and notably the local chamber of commerce. As long as the Shark is still swimming, he lives. But it is shading the smaller fish.
Of course, setting up a new business, especially in French Rugby League isn’t a cakewalk, but sooner or later it will be necessary to bring the Montpellier treizistes together.
Montpellier is one of the biggest cities in France (the second largest in the Occitania region just after Toulouse) and could sustain a successful Rugby League presence but a divided community won’t help deliver success to either the Devils or the Sharks on their own.
Those on the ground may not want to work together right now, but it would be in the interests of the sport for the governing body to seek to bring them round the table to discuss the options, at least.

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