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Super League 2021: Catalans Dragons’ next generation starting to take flight

With several experienced players moving on, Catalans are looking to their up-and-coming players to make a mark in 2021; Sam Tomkins and Steve McNamara give more of an insight into the players coming through in Perpignan

By Marc Bazeley

When Remi Casty departed Catalans Dragons at the end of the 2020 season, it severed a link on the playing side to the club’s inaugural Super League campaign 15 years ago.

Although a fringe player in those early years of the club’s entry into the competition, Casty – aside from spending 2014 with Sydney Roosters – became an integral part of the Dragons pack and will go down in history as the man who skippered them to Challenge Cup glory in 2018.

He was not the only experienced player to move on and while Catalans have added an international flavour by recruiting English second row Mike McMeeken, Wales prop Gil Dudson and New Zealand international Dean Whare, there are several potential future French stars coming through too.

“We’ve got a lot of young kids who are really close to playing Super League,” Dragons back Sam Tomkins said. “Last year a few guys got a run and I think this year it will be even more important.

“There will be a lot of debuts, I expect, from us. They’ve really ripped in pre-season.

“We’ve got a lot younger squad than we had last year. There were a few senior players who had done a great job for the club for a long time who moved on and that’s meant some of the young kids have got their chance this year to get a few games under their belts.”

One player who has already caught the eye in Super League is Arthur Mourgue, with the 21-year-old half-back or full-back winning rave reviews for how he coped with being thrown into action when the 2020 season returned to action last August.

For his part, England international Tomkins has been impressed with what he has seen of centre Mathieu Laguerre in pre-season training, while fellow academy products Corentin Le Cam, Mathieu Cozza and Joe Chan are pushing for places in the team too.

Catalans head coach Steve McNamara, who is entering his fifth season in charge of the Perpignan-based club, is impressed with the standard of players coming through and sees it as a sign of the progress being made in rugby league in France.

“It’s an exciting time for France, but there are more players coming through,” McNamara said. “In England, we talk about how we want more players and look in envy to Australia, but the French are the same and look with envy about the number of young players who come through in England.

“It’s starting to develop, it’s starting to happen now and we’re certainly happy with the development of some of our players here.

“If we can push them through into Super League and they start to establish themselves, they’ll certainly improve and will without doubt this year. Hopefully moving forward they’ll be able to continue to strengthen.”

Had things been different, Catalans would have been joined by a second French side in Toulouse in Super League for 2021, although their application to step up from the Championship in place of Toronto Wolfpack was ultimately overlooked in favour of Leigh Centurions.

The two sides did go head to head in a pre-season game earlier this month though and while the Dragons ultimately triumphed 40-28, they did not have it all their own way against Sylvain Houles’ side.

“It wasn’t a shock how they started against us,” Tomkins said. “If you look at the squad they’ve assembled, they’ve got some massive experience in the squad and it was a tough test we needed.

“They came out of the blocks really well and got a lead on us. There is no reason they can’t be in Super League very soon and I think it would be massive for the sport to have another team over here.

“Firstly, for French rugby league and also for Super League. Toulouse would be a great option if they could get in, they’ve got backing financially, a great stadium, great facilities and a great squad.

“I think it’s inevitable they’ll get in at some point and when they do it will be exciting.”

Having got within 80 minutes of a maiden Grand Final appearance last year, going down 48-2 to eventual champions St Helens in the play-off semi-finals, Catalans kick off their 2021 campaign against Hull Kingston Rovers on Saturday.

Tomkins is optimistic the developments at the Dragons in recent years means are well-placed to ensure they are regularly competing for honours in the coming seasons and is keen to extend his contract, which expires at the end of this year.

“I’m very happy at the club,” Tomkins said. “It’s a club I’ve grown to love over the past two-and-a-bit years, and it’s somewhere I’m happy and my family is happy.

“I’m really enjoying my rugby, I think we’re an ambitious club with big ambitions for the next few years which I’d love to be a part of.

“That starts with my own performance on the field, I’ve got to prove I’m worthy of a contract here and I’m glad I’ll be doing that.”

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