THÉO FAGES is about to undergo a French Renaissance in his glittering Rugby League career, which has gone full circle from the suburbs of Perpignan via Salford, St Helens and Huddersfield and back to where it all began.
The 29-year-old three-time Grand Final and Challenge Cup-winner is raring to go after a 13-year round-trip and excited to run out in front of local fans against Warrington in game one of season 2024 at Stade Gilbert Brutus.
“I can’t wait to wear the Catalan colours, honouring the jersey in front of my family, friends and supporters,” said Fages.
“I am so proud to have the opportunity to join this great group, and help to bring trophies home for the club; that is the objective.”
Notoriously media-shy, Fages prepares to do his talking on the pitch, but he was pictured in Perpignan’s media last week modelling the Dragons’ new kit for 2024 and coach Steve McNamara believes his new signing has a born-again appetite for the game.
McNamara told League Express: “Théo is a really professional player and an all-round good guy, very unassuming but extremely knowledgeable about the game. I think he’ll be really good for the group, being French and in that key position and also speaking fluent English.
“He’s a winner, he’s been there and done it with Saints. He had a tough time with injuries at Huddersfield so spent some time in recovery, then when he was announced as signing for us they decided not to select him for some reason.
“That will be an advantage for him and also the playing group because not only has he fully recovered from injury, but his body has had an extended period of time to fully rest and he’s ready and raring to go again.
“Théo has shown great will and real commitment to join the Dragons. His return to France is excellent news for Rugby League in this country. He is a Catalan, a leader and a player who knows how to win titles.”
Théo’s father Pascal Fages was a French international and club captain at local side Pia Donkeys, where young Théo cut his teeth as a junior.
The promising youngster, nicknamed ‘The Little Pony’ for his diminutive stature and ferocious appetite for the physical side of the game, had been expected to join Catalans when he turned 16 and his bold decision to move to England and join the junior squad at Salford raised eyebrows in Perpignan.
It proved to be a masterstroke and he quickly impressed everyone at the Red Devils, making his Super League debut in 2013.
Three solid seasons of development later, he joined St Helens and he went on to win three title-winners’ rings and lift the Challenge Cup before reuniting with former coach Ian Watson at Huddersfield in 2022.
Injuries hit his two-season stint with the Giants and this time when the Catalans came calling once more, he took up the offer.
Fages will line up alongside the Dragons’ new stand-off Jayden Nikorima although McNamara expects to be giving more game time to 21-year-old French international César Rougé, raising the prospect of an all-French halfback pairing in Super League.
“We tried to give César more opportunities last season but circumstances prevented it. But he will definitely be in the mix next season, which is good news for us and also for French Rugby League,” said McNamara.
Catalans’ coaching staff will meet up today (Monday) at Stade Gilbert Brutus on the first day of pre-season preparations for 2024 but McNamara admitted: “We never really stop, we chose deliberately to have an extended break after the end of last season, giving the players seven weeks off.
“But all of the staff work remotely from each other during this period and we’ll assemble on Monday morning while the players are working on their own individual programmes at home, then the coaches will go into an overnight camp away from Perpignan before we return for the start of training on Monday 4th of December.
“Andy Last (former Castleford coach) has joined our coaching team and he’s excited about the challenge; he’ll be with us from day one and he will be a great addition to the club.
“He’s very experienced and we will need him after losing Sammy and Freddy (assistant coaches Sam Moa and Eamon O’Carroll), because he has so much to offer us.
“Andy has vast experience, some of it good, some of it not so good, and all of that will be of great benefit to us. He has shown great commitment already and I’m sure he will blossom here in the sunshine of the south of France.”