Talking Rugby League with League Express editor Martyn Sadler
Well, that was quite a week, with two French teams getting into their respective Grand Finals.
Catalans Dragons will now face St Helens on Saturday at Old Trafford and Toulouse Olympique will play Featherstone Rovers the following day at the Stade Ernest Wallon in Toulouse.
Inevitably there are predictions of a record low crowd for the Super League Grand Final and I hope that Rugby League fans from throughout the UK will prove the doubters wrong.
It will be difficult for the Catalans to bring many of the almost 12,000 supporters who were at the Stade Gilbert Brutus las Thursday night, given that international travel is not easy and there are few regular airline services between southwest France and northwest England.
But rather than focus on the negatives, it would be far better if all of us were to concentrate on the remarkable positives that will attach to the game.
If St Helens win on Saturday, it will be their eighth Grand Final win, which will equal Leeds Rhinos’ record.
They were also the Champions in 1996, in the era before Grand Finals, so both they and Leeds have been Super League Champions eight times, and Saints will be trying to win the Super League title for a record ninth time.
It’s a remarkable and continuing record of success and St Helens will enter Saturday’s game no doubt as the strong favourites.
And there is no doubt that the Catalans will have to improve significantly on their performance against Hull Kingston Rovers last Thursday night.
That of course will be helped if Sam Tomkins is fit to play.
For the sake of the game, we must all hope that his sprained knee that kept him out of Thursday night’s game will have fully recovered by Saturday.
On page 16 of this issue I’ve written about St Helens’ victory over Leeds on Friday night and I suggest that we are potentially in an era in which they will dominate the game. It’s very difficult to see any weaknesses in the St Helens club, from the top downwards.
And yet Rugby League has a habit of sometimes throwing up crazy results.
One of those happened last month at the Magic Weekend in Newcastle, when the Dragons came back from 30-12 down to score three tries in the last five minutes to take the game into golden-point time and then to win it with a James Maloney field-goal.
I can’t imagine for a moment that we’ll have an ending anything like as exciting as that on Saturday.
But the game certainly holds out the prospect of being a potential thriller, as long as the Catalans don’t make early mistakes, or give away early penalties, that would allow Saints to build up an early lead.
The atmosphere we saw at the Stade Gilbert Brutus last Thursday was quite magnificent, and if we could see even half of that atmosphere on Saturday night, then it will be a wonderful evening.
Whatever happens, my advice is to get to Old Trafford on Saturday for a night of nights, while persuading your friends to go too.
Toulouse face a formidable barrier
So will we have two French teams in Super League in 2022?
If Toulouse Olympique can beat Featherstone Rovers on Sunday we certainly will, but it will be by no means an easy task.
Featherstone are a formidable Championship team and they certainly have the potential to beat Toulouse, even though the game will take place in the French city.
And let’s be quite clear that if Featherstone do win, then they will thoroughly deserve their place in Super League next year.
They have a smart stadium, good facilities, a good coaching team and they have a team that, with some astute recruitment, will give anyone a game at the elite level.
If Toulouse win, we can say the same about them, although they have some ageing players especially in their pack, and I suspect they will need to go on a more substantial recruitment expedition if they are to have a team that can compete in Super League next year.
I have no doubt that they will have the financial strength to be able to do that, but they will need to move quickly to recruit a squad of the required standard.
In this week’s issue of this newspaper we have an interview with Toulouse’s chief executive, Cedric Garcia (see page 26), and he is predicting crowds of 30,000 for a French derby in future Super League clashes. But in order to achieve that, Toulouse would have to survive that first season in Super League, and that is incredibly difficult for any team.
It will be even more difficult if, in future, Super League is reduced to ten clubs.
It was great to see almost 7,000 people in the Stade Ernest Wallon against Batley on Saturday and I’m certain that there will be a five-figure crowd there on Sunday evening.
It is certainly a prospect to savour.
Doncaster’s challenge to Workington
We had another thrilling game on Sunday at Keighley, when Doncaster came from behind to win the game with a converted try after the final hooter to secure a promotion clash with
Workington Town this Sunday at Derwent Park in West Cumbria.
Victory was snatched from Keighley’s grasp in the most heartbreaking way possible, but we have to congratulate the Dons, who now give themselves a chance of earning promotion into the Championship next season.
Workington, who have enjoyed a fine season, finishing second in the league, will be the strong favourites to progress.
And if they do, we will see all three Cumbrian clubs in the Championship next season, which would be great to see.
Then again, Doncaster have a stadium that would stand out in Super League and they would be worthy ambassadors for the Championship and they would have a South Yorkshire derby against Sheffield Eagles.
So it will be a good outcome regardless of who wins that game.
Good luck to both sides.
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