How Catalans Dragons fared in 2020
Five things we learned from the Catalans’ season
1: The most unpredictable team in Super League is still the most unpredictable team in Super League. Capable of massive highs and epic lows at any given moment, the Dragons entertain and exasperate in equal measure.
2: Sam Tomkins is a shoo-in for England fullback in next year’s World Cup. Still only 31, Sam has blossomed in the sunshine of the south of France and he’s back to his very best, with some jaw-dropping displays for the Dragons.
3: Catalans have never been afraid to make the big decisions and their acquisition of Israel Folau made headlines around the world. Threats of boycotts, protests and rainbow laces disappeared as Covid took hold and Izzy took to the pitch.
4: Steve McNamara’s “whatever it takes” approach to the unique challenges of 2020 was adopted by all at the club. More than any other side, the Dragons were tested to their very limits logistically and financially and McNamara’s cool-headed professionalism, dedication and tenacity helped to steer his club through the most difficult of times.
5: In President Bernard Guasch, the Catalans have a loyal and devoted owner who will do anything for his beloved club. Robust and resilient of stature and character, Guasch has stamped his hallmark upon the Dragons at massive personal expense. There is an immense sense of gratitude from players, staff and supporters in Perpignan for his incredible efforts and sacrifices.
It’s fair to say the Dragons played the percentages to perfection, finishing fourth despite completing far fewer fixtures than their rivals. It’s a miracle that the club got through the season at all so, despite wrapping up the campaign with an ignominious semi-final dismissal by St Helens, all things considered the Catalans deserve a medal alongside their hard-earned play-off slot.
Catalans announced themselves as serious contenders this year with a thumping 40-14 victory over Castleford Tigers at a sun-blessed Headingley in early August. Inspired by an incredible performance from Israel Folau and his two-try winger Tom Davies, the Dragons came back from 14-0 down with a blistering display of attacking rugby. Fresh from a 32-6 defeat to St Helens in the first game after resumption, the Dragons crushed Castleford, then backed it up with two further demolition jobs on Wakefield Trinity in League and Cup.
It may seem strange to select a mere 16 points defeat by Wigan as the worst result of the season, but the first game at the Brutus following lockdown and a string of strong performances in the UK should have been a celebration after six months of deprivation in Perpignan. The limited 5,000 crowd had nothing to shout about until a couple of late tries spared the Dragons’ blushes. Defeats to the Warriors aren’t unusual, but this hit home like a hammer and put the seeds of doubt back in supporters’ minds.
Ben Garcia (pictured): Often overlooked by the more myopic of observers who are easily drawn to the flamboyant brilliance of Sam Tomkins and the imposing presence of Israel Folau and James Maloney, Garcia is the fiery heartbeat of the Dragons. Operating from loose, second row or hooker, Garcia canters around the pitch like a Catalan bull, destroying everything in his path. In attack or defence his controlled and disciplined aggression has been the real driving force behind the Dragons’ top-four finish. Top tackler by a mile this year, his consistently ruthless and professional approach is a model for younger players at the club.
Best young player
Arthur Mourgue: Massive potential for this young French international, which was all too briefly evident when he stood in for injured or suspended players. He would have featured more prominently in normal times and the club will find it difficult to keep hold of such prodigious talent if he cannot break into the first team.
Best overseas player
Tom Davies: His energy and enthusiasm is infectious and his explosive power and pace on the outside of Israel Folau would surely have made him Super League’s top try scorer if only Catalans could have completed more fixtures. His comeback from horrific injury at Wigan is a beacon of hope for any player who suffers on the pitch. His attitude and appetite for the game is truly inspirational, but he probably summed up his approach much more succinctly when he told me: “I just pin my ears back and go full pelt for the line”. Watch him fly next season.
Try of the year
It’s a tricky one, with a succession of dazzling long-range strikes from Sam Tomkins, Folau and Davies to contend with, but the one that resonates most is Sam Kasiano’s 80-metre burst and interplay with Sam Tomkins against Wakefield Trinity at the Brutus. Kasiano had been in indifferent form in the run-up to this 40-8 victory at the beginning of October, but he had the French supporters in open-mouthed awe as he burst through the defence and sprinted with all the grace of a runaway truck and then rocked the foundations of the Puig Aubert Stand by collapsing over the try-line in the corner.
Quote of the year
“Do they take us for Paris hams?” President Guasch after the RFL gave byes to the big four clubs in the sixth round Challenge Cup draw, because of the withdrawal of Toronto Wolfpack and Championship clubs, and then asked the Dragons to play an ‘extra’ round against Wakefield. Guasch added: “The competition cancelled the Magic Weekend this year and it has made up for it with its Magic Draw.” Incidentally, a Paris Ham is a derogatory term meaning weak or foolish.
Image of the year
Players gathered in the car park at a windy Stade Gilbert Brutus frantically working out how to fit everyone into cars for a last-gasp Wacky Races-style dash to Toulouse airport after their private jet was blown off course in September. The Dragons made kick-off against Warrington on time and then had to make the epic trek in reverse, arriving home at 5am the following morning.
When Israel Folau plucked the ball from the heavens and scored with his first touch on his debut for the Dragons, it was a watershed moment. The game that prides itself on inclusivity was bitterly divided by Folaugate and many people sought his exclusion from the sport. When he rose above all others against Castleford at the Brutus in February, ten years after he had last touched a ball in competitive Rugby League, it was like time had stood still. French supporters and the world’s media gasped in witness of something fundamentally profound. It’s been the most difficult of times, the strangest of seasons and this ‘strange’ moment I think defines the almost surreal nature of the 2020 season.
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