Catalans Dragons

Introduction

Catalans Dragons are currently the only non-English team in the European Super League, only the second ever non-English team in the history of the competition, and also the only non-English club ever to reach the final of the Challenge Cup.

The Dragons are seen as the first example of a franchise club in Super League, which is moving to a license application system for the 2009 system. When Catalans joined in 2006, they were exempt from relegation for three years. In the first season in which they could have been relegated, there will be no relegation anyway, meaning that they are guaranteed a place in the top flight until at least 2012.

History

Based in Perpignan, Catalans not only have a team in the European Super League, but in the French Rugby League championship as well. The club was founded in 2001 under the name Union Treiziste Catalane, often abbreviated to UTC, following the merger of the XIII Catalan club and Saint Esteve. XIII Catalan were founded in 1935 and were one of the founding members of the French rugby league championship. Saint Esteve were founded in 1965.

The Dragons were chosen ahead of Toulouse and Villeneuve for a place in Super League, with the initial plan being to call themselves UTC and then Perpignan, before the decision was made to go with Catalans, to embrace a wider region and thus attract more fans. They were selected after a long process of debate between existing Super League clubs regarding the entry of another French team to the competition. Paris St Germain took part in the first season of Super League, but only lasted two years before folding. UTC were given the go ahead to join Super League in 2004, which gave them almost two years to prepare for entry to the competition.

The differences between Catalans and Paris are vast. Rugby League, like rugby union, is far more popular in the south of France than in the north. Paris struggled to build a squad as they were only allowed to loan players from French league clubs, and these players would play not only for Paris, but for their parent clubs too. Catalans, however, can sign players from any French club without paying a fee. The club aims to have 75% of its playing staff eligible to play for France.

Development in the Super League

The failure of the Paris franchise left the sport of rugby league with egg on its face in France, and meant that English fans were also sceptical about the inclusion of the Dragons in 2006.

With time to prepare, Catalans appointed former Great Britain boss David Waite as Director of Football, and Steve Deakin as coach. Deakin was appointed in 2003 to oversee all preparations for Super League, but was dismissed just six weeks before the club’s first game in the competition.

The club recruited some of the finest French players as well as several overseas players with Super League and NRL potential. There was even one huge signing – that of Kiwi legend Stacey Jones from New Zealand Warriors. Scrum half Jones was immediately made captain, and would be the linchpin of the team in its first two seasons.

Catalans’ first Super League game was played at Stade Aime Giral on Saturday 11 February 2006 and saw Catalans host Wigan Warriors, the most successful English rugby league team ever. Against the odds, the Dragons made a fairytale start, notching up a 38-30 win in front of 11,000 people.

Catalans would have to wait until Round 6 for their first away victory in Super League. In their third trip to England for a league match, they defeated Warrington 28-26, in new coach Mick Potter’s first game in charge.

Despite many encouraging performances, Catalans’ form dipped in the second half of the season and they finished bottom of the table in 12th place. As they were exempt from relegation for their first three years, 11th placed Castleford were relegated to National League One. It was the second successive season that the team in 11th place had been relegated as, in 2005, Widnes Vikings were relegated alongside 12th placed Leigh to accommodate Catalans for the 2006 season.

They picked up home wins in 2006 against Wigan, Castleford, Wakefield, Harlequins, Salford and St Helens, as well as away wins at Warrington and Castleford.

Positive signs for the future

Many critics saw the first season as a failure for the club, and the sign of things to come. However, crowds gradually increased, and the club prepared for 2007 with the high profile signings of Clint Greenshields, State of Origin star Adam Mogg, Casey McGuire, Jason Croker and Aaron Gorrell. Gorrell, unfortunately, was to miss almost the entire season through injury, and Luke Quigley was signed as a replacement.

2007 saw an encouraging start with an away draw at Hull followed by a narrow defeat at home to Wigan and an impressive win against eventual champions Leeds Rhinos. By winning their final two home games against Wakefield and Harlequins, it meant that the Dragons had beaten all 11 Super League sides in 2007. It resulted in a 10th place finish, above promoted Hull KR and relegated Salford. Centre Adam Mogg was also named in the Super League XII Dream Team.

However, 2007 will be remembered for the club’s Challenge Cup run. After dispatching of lower league opposition Featherstone (70-12) and Whitehaven (24-14), Catalans travelled to Hull where they picked up an unlikely 26-23 win to secure a place in the semi finals.

Then, in an extraordinary match at the Halliwell Jones Stadium in Warrington, Catalans replicated their first ever game by defeating the mighty Wigan 37-24, having led 24-6 at half time, with the mercurial Stacey Jones winning man of the match. It meant that Catalans became the first French side, and the first non-English side, ever to reach a Challenge Cup Final. Prior to 2007, Toulouse’s cup run of 2005 which saw them reach the semi finals was the furthest a French team had got in the position. In the final itself, Catalans held their own in the first forty minutes and scored a try through Justin Murphy. However, reigning Super League champions and Challenge Cup holders St Helens proved too strong, and the Merseysiders claimed a 30-8 victory.

Contact Details

Address: SASP UTC Perpignan St Esteve Mediteranee, Avenue Général De Gaulle, BP 24 – 66240 Saint-Estève CEDEX FRANCE Telephone: +33 (0) 468 354 530 Fax: +33 (9) 468 924 860 Email: contact@catalansdragons.com Web: Catalans Dragons (mainly in French)