Catalans Dragons Challenge Cup

Catalans ask RFL to rethink

After seeing Toronto Wolfpack and Toulouse withdraw from this year’s Challenge Cup after not adhering to the RFL’s request for a bond for their entry, 2018 winners Catalans Dragons have urged the governing body to rethink their demand for £500,000 in order for the French club to defend their title.

While Catalans have stopped short of threatening a boycott of the competition, chairman Bernard Guasch has explained that is would be irresponsible for the club to pay the bond in a letter to the organisation. “The club has been officially advised in December that a £500,000 deposit will be asked by the RFL to play in the Challenge Cup in 2019,” he wrote to the RFL. “We, as a club, want to ­participate in this prestigious competition and defend our title, but it would be irresponsible to accept this decision. Thus, we have asked the RFL to reconsider its demand and we are now waiting for a decision,” he added.

After the Dragons reached – and won – August’s final, the RFL reported £800,000 less in projected income, leading to the governing body’s requests to the overseas clubs of financial guarantees to safeguard against future losses from an event which is usually a valuable money earner. Due to Toronto, Toulouse and Catalans not being full members of the RFL, there is no automatic right to enter the Challenge Cup but it would be embarrassing for the organisation if the Dragons weren’t present in 2019 to defend their title.

However, they are keen to see Catalans in the competition this year and further information will no doubt be forthcoming in the not-too-distant future.

Catalans Dragons opinion Super League

Opinion: What can the Dragons do in 2019?

It is a popular view that 2019 could be the year where we really see Catalans truly challenge for the Super League title. After an excellent second half of the season in 2018, culminating in their maiden Challenge Cup triumph, they have added impressively to an already strong playing squad and, if Steve McNamara can get his team carrying on from where they left off, they may well push very hard.

As with any club, recruitment and retention is vital in the off-season and, while the Dragons have lost the impressive Josh Drinkwater after his short-term deal expired, the departures of Iain Thornley and Paul Aiton won’t be huge misses as they were hardly first team regulars. Coming into the fold will be Sam Tomkins, Matty Smith and Matt Whitley from Wigan, St Helens and Widnes respectively. In the shape of Tomkins, McNamara has brought a serial winner into his squad and, fresh from a Grand Final winning final season with Wigan, he has already put on record how keen he is to have a successful stint with the Dragons. He will likely slot in at full-back with Lance Todd trophy winner Tony Gigot moving into either the centres or the halves and that just demonstrates the depth McNamara now has in the ranks. Smith is another experienced, successful player to join the club. Despite being out of favour at St Helens in 2018, Smith’s ability is certainly there and he will have the drive to prove a point that he can still deliver at the top of Super League in the Dragons shirt. Finally, England Knights’ man Whitley is one of the highest-rated English youngsters playing the sport. Despite being part of the relegated Widnes team, the 22-year-old was one of few Vikings to enhance his growing reputation in 2018. Now part of a team who are much more likely to dominate matches, expect to see Whitley shine and blossom in coming years with senior international honours certainly on the horizon.

Adding to their back division is a wise move, especially given the already existing strength in the Dragons’ forwards. Viewed as having one of the most powerful packs in the competition, it will be interesting to see how the big men adapt to the drop in interchanges allowed but, if they manage it correctly, they will provide a platform for the likes of Tomkins and Smith to dictate the game. Smith will no doubt thrive on performing behind a pack who set the platform for him to control the game.

While St Helens will likely be strong once more, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Wigan take a little bit of time to adapt to the new Adrian Lam (soon to be Shaun Edwards) regime after so long under the stewardship of Shaun Wane. Leeds are another team in transition and, given the turnover of players and staff in the off-season, they are another team who may take a bit of time to grow accustomed to a new era for the club. Warrington will be hoping to push Saints all the way in Steve Price’s second year and the Wolves, along with Saints, may set the Super League pace in 2019. The Dragons, however, will be very confident of pushing them all the way – and they may just shock the rugby league world once more.

Catalans Dragons Super League Wigan Warriors

Camp Nou confirmed for Dragons

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It has been confirmed today that Catalans Dragons will host their Super League match against Wigan Warriors at FC Barcelona’s iconic Camp Nou stadium. The match will be held on Saturday 18th May in Catalonia and will be the first rugby league match held at the 99000-plus capacity venue.

After their Challenge Cup triumph in August, Steve McNamara’s Catalans team paraded the trophy at half-time of one of the football club’s La Liga matches and were promptly invited to host a league match at the stadium by Barcelona’s club president Josep Maria Bartomeu. It had long been suggested that Wigan would be the visitors and, today, that has been revealed.

“I think we do not realise yet the impact of this event for our club, our competition and our sport,” the Dragons chairman Bernard Guasch told the media following the confirmation. “The prospect of playing a game in one of the biggest stadiums in the world is exceptional and I would like to thank Josep Maria Bartomeu for giving us this opportunity,” he added.

Indeed, Wigan took their Super League clash against Hull FC to Australia early in 2018 and the Warriors’ chairman Ian Lenagan was understandably delighted to be taking part in a historic moment for the sport. “This is landmark moment in Super League’s history, and we are extremely proud to play our part,” he explained. “Having European rugby league’s two current title holders face each other in the iconic surroundings of the Camp Nou is a mouth-watering prospect and is one that I truly believe will be an historic occasion for the sport.”

It is also hoped – perhaps expected – that the football club would lend their considerable expertise in marketing the match and, in turn, could well introduce a new group of supporters to the game. Wigan fans historically have travelled well also and, with the game taking part in Catalonia, the Dragons should also be followed incredibly well which should make for a superb occasion.

Catalans Dragons Super League

Gelling Dragons-bound?

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Despite having signed a deal with Widnes back in July, former Wigan centre Anthony Gelling is being strongly linked with a move to Catalans with some reports suggesting that the Cook Islands international is set to turn his back on the Vikings with a deal near completion.

After leaving Super League and the Cherry-and-Whites following the 2017 season, the 28-year-old went on to sign a deal with New Zealand Warriors in the NRL. A six-time Cook Islands international, Gelling made seven appearances for the Auckland club, finding it hard to force himself into their first team on a regular basis. As a result, he signed a two-year-deal with Widnes but, having seen the Vikings suffer relegation from Super League, the centre seems likely to turn his back on the club.

Challenge Cup winners Catalans seem set to sign Gelling and were interested in taking him to the south of France before he signed his deal with the Vikings. Following Widnes’ relegation, the move seems back on. The switch is similar to that of Bryson Goodwin ahead of the 2018 campaign, the former South Sydney Rooster signing for Warrington after Leigh, who he initially signed with, dropped back into the Championship.

Goodwin’s move paid off and saw Warrington competing at the top of Super League and appearing in both showpiece finals. The Dragons – if they secure Gelling’s services – will be hoping for the same sort of impact.