CATALANS DRAGONS will re-light their fire in the new year when all their players finally return after their World Cup commitments, which have affected the French club more than any other in Super League.
Coach Steve McNamara has accepted the impact of having 18 players involved in the tournament and the delay it has had on pre-season preparations, but he says there are added benefits to consider too.
He told League Express: “You know what you’re going to get in a World Cup year when you’re Catalans coach. When you’ve just got seven players back in pre-season it’s a bit like a schoolteacher who normally has a class of 30 pupils and is trying to give each one of them attention. When you’ve only got seven you can give those players incredible attention to detail.
“Doing big group stuff and teamwork hasn’t been possible, but we can focus intently on the individual and set standards until the next group joins in and adds to it.
“So we’re not where some of the other clubs are in terms of personnel at this stage, but we understand the situation and we’ve planned for it.
“On the plus-side, all the French players had the benefit of a great coaching and conditioning staff; they will have learned some things and will bring that back with them.
“It’s the same with our English, Tongan and Samoans, they all pick up things that improve them as players and as people. They progress and mature because of the experience and they share that with their team-mates.
“All the boys who came back from the French camp have come back in super condition. I’m really pleased with their fitness levels. Clearly, they haven’t had a long break, so we are monitoring them to make sure they come back at the right speed.”
McNamara reports no serious injury concerns within his squad but revealed a painful problem for captain Ben Garcia and some positive news on the recovery of Tyrone May, who suffered a dislocated hip while playing for Samoa.
The coach said, “We’ve given Ben Garcia more time; he won’t return until after Christmas along with the England, Samoan and Tongan players who were in the tournament.
“Ben got a really nasty arm infection in the UK. He probably shouldn’t have played against England but that’s the nature of Ben. It has really drained him, so we’ve given him the extra time to recover but we all know what he’s about.
“He’s had continuous treatment, antibiotics and different methods to clear the infection fully out of his system. He’s had it really tough for a few weeks after the World Cup but he’s on the mend.
“Tyrone May’s progressing really well; he’s back in Australia now and he’ll return to Perpignan between Christmas and New Year. He did some work with us before he returned home and we were really happy with the position he was in.
“We have liaised with the medical staff at Penrith Panthers, who are kindly working with him during this period. Thankfully, it’s a pretty simple period of recovery for him and he’s taking the time to go back and see family.
“It was pretty horrific to see at the time, but he’s recovering really well from it.”
McNamara won’t be drawn over potential further recruitment for Les Dracs but he said he was happy with his options at halfback since the surprise departure of regular scrum-half Josh Drinkwater to Warrington Wolves.
“Teams evolve and Josh has been really good for us over a period of time, but we’ve got lots of options in that area, and in particular young French options with Arthur Mourgue and César Rougé to link up with Mitchell Pearce, Tyrone May and Sam Tomkins.
“They are all playing for those positions and I’m excited to see how Arthur and César make progress.”
The Dragons have made five new signings so far for 2023, with two quota slots still available, but internal changes will also be influential according to McNamara if the club is to reach its goal of Grand Final glory.
He said, “We’ve implemented some changes in the off-season that needed to be done.
“The acquisition of Neil McIlroy (in a newly-created position of Sporting Director) to help with the administration and sporting side of the club has been good for us. It’s an area that we needed to improve and we’ve taken the right measures.
“It’s a constant evolution and we’re going in the right direction.
“St Helens have clearly been the benchmark for the last four years for everyone to shoot at, but there are lot of strong contenders out there and they’ve had some pretty close Grand Finals, the Wigan one was won on the last kick and ours last year went so close.
“It’s all to be played for again this season and every team starts with optimism. We’re just quietly getting on with it, with no shouting about what we’re going to do. We’re happy and comfortable in ourselves and we’ll take it from there.”
Catalans will break on Thursday December 22 and resume training on Monday, January 2 before a training camp in Spain and a potential pre-season game against a France B national side.