Sylvain Houles sets sights on Super League as Toulouse prepare for Leeds

When Toulouse take to the field against Leeds Rhinos on Saturday it will be a further statement of their movement up the Rugby League stratosphere.

Olympique, for the first time in their history, will lock horns with Super League opposition as equals, and they do so against the reigning champions.

But this isn’t the culmination of their journey, far from it, in fact. Their ambition is for fixtures like this to become a common occurrence but with Toulouse an established member of the top flight.

Head coach Sylvain Houles admits they’ve probably some way to go before that becomes a more realistic proposition, but it won’t stop them trying to reach the Promised Land anyway.

“For us, it’s about us going as far as we can without any expectation on our shoulders,” he said.

“We don’t want to put any pressure on our players but it’s just testing ourselves and seeing how many points we can take and how far we can go.

“It has been a great journey I have to say, right back from coaching the team in the French competition to earning our right to play in Championship through League 1 and now the Qualifiers.

“We have improved the players and the structure step by step and it’s not been too quick for us. It allowed us to have our own pace each year and thinking about where we need to improve within our team and the club.

“It has been fun so far and as long as we’re improving each year that’s the main goal. The players feel part of the project and they’ve been massive for us. It’s a strong group of players for the last five years. They believe in it and want to take Toulouse to Super League. We just have to make sure we give them good direction.”

Houles admits there are areas the club still needs to address and strengthen, though it comes with its challenges on the way.

“Obviously, there’s a big money issue where we’d like to improve a lot more but it costs. We changed the training from part-time to full-time and that’s been a big move. We have now our own structure with our own gym and training facilities. We still have improvement to do, a bit better organised.

“I want to improve the development of our youngsters. Our reserve team will play in a French competition but we need some help and some reinforcements. If our project wants to be viable and be bigger long-term we have to really develop our own youngsters.

“Our French Championship is not as strong and I’m finding it really hard to recruit from the competition. We need to make sure we create some strong players in our own training so we don’t have to recruit from the outside, from England or Australia. There’s a big question mark there where we need to find the right tools and structure in our own development. We do have something and we improve it every year.”

Though delivering a Super League team, Houles believes, would help them go from strength-to-strength.

“There’s a lot of things we want and can improve. We put a lot of things on paper that needs to be done. At the start, I said money is an issue but with Super League, you get more money from the competition and TV money and stuff like that and then those things on paper could become reality.

“We’d have to move quickly but we want to push hard for it and see where it takes us. This journey isn’t over and I think it would be great to have Toulouse in one of the best competitions in the world.”

They’ll soon discover the benchmark of Super League quality when they face Leeds, though it’s a challenge Houles is desperate to take on.

“It’s so exciting to be able to play against a team like that with that history. To play against them with two points to take, it’s going to be fun. We’re just going to embrace that moment and that game. We’re really looking forward to playing on Saturday.”