JOSH DRINKWATER will leave Catalans Dragons at the end of the season after a six-month “rollercoaster ride” in France.

The Dragons called for international rescue in April after their worst ever start to a Super League season - coach Steve McNamara asking Drinkwater to fill the breach after scrum-half Luke Walsh was forced to retire through injury.

Since his arrival on a half-season deal the Catalans have clawed their way from bottom of the table to Super League top eight safety. And the crowning glory of the season came last month with the historic Challenge Cup win at Wembley.

“I’ve enjoyed it,” said Drinkwater. “It’s been successful and winning the Challenge Cup has been the highlight of my career so far.

“But I don’t think I’ll be staying here, to be honest. For one reason or another things haven’t worked out so I’ll be moving on.”

The Dragons have agreed terms with St Helens and former Wigan scrum-half Matty Smith for next season and Sam Tomkins has already agreed to move to Perpignan, creating congestion among the backs at Stade Gilbert Brutus.

It is understood the club will also be adding a winger to replace Fouad Yaha (who is leaving to join rugby union) and a prop-forward following the decision by Louis Anderson to leave at the end of the season.

The decision not to include Drinkwater next year will surprise some who had seen him as the catalyst for the club’s revival in 2018.

Asked whether or not he will be staying in Super League he said: “I’m not too fussed, my manager will sort all that out. I’d be happy either way, moving over to England in Super League or back to Australia to have a shot at the NRL.

“I just want to finish these last three weeks on a good note and whatever happens after that happens I guess.”

Drinkwater said he’d been impressed with the standard of the game this season, especially at the top level.

“I’ve enjoyed these last few months, I’ve been involved in some great games. The top four in Super League could definitely compete in the NRL. The only difference is the bottom half of Super League would find it difficult.

“I’d be very happy to continue in Super League, I’ve lived in England before so that wouldn’t be a problem.

“Rugby League is a rollercoaster. Last year I thought I’d be playing for Leigh for three years and the Million Pound Game put paid to that.

“Next thing I’m at Catalans and winning the Challenge Cup final so I’m not too fussed about the immediate future. It will sort itself out so I’m not getting stressed about it.

“Rugby League is a business and I understand that so whatever happens, happens.”

the Catalans Dragons' coach

STEVE BRADY takes a look at a surreal season for

McNamara's work of art...

South-west France is an area famously frequented by surrealists such as Salvador Dali, Pablo Picasso and Steve McNamara.

Those first two names are world famous painters whose unique vision and often bizarre interpretations of reality have produced some of history’s greatest works of art. The third is a Rugby League coach from Hull.

McNamara’s “oeuvre” comes in the shape of an oval ball and thirteen players, but his latest work has stunned the world with its powerful and passionate portrayal of “sang et or” (blood and gold) on a lush green background with a final flourish of silver.

“It’s all a bit surreal,” said the Catalans Dragons coach after seeing his team win the Ladbrokes Challenge Cup Final at Wembley. “I can’t completely sum it up…”

That’s the thing with surrealism, it’s difficult to explain. Who could possibly make sense of a Catalan conundrum which began with the worst ever start to a season and ended with the club’s first ever trophy?

All fine artists (and coaches) start with great expectations but the path to success can occasionally veer off into dark periods of desolation and despair. In some cases this adds depth and perception to the brilliance of their work but it very often leads to the sack.

It was a blank canvas for McNamara when he assembled his new team in January - made up from desperate survivors of last year’s Million Pound game but generously sprinkled with expensive new additions including Papua New Guinea skipper David Mead and Wigan’s talismanic hooker Michael McIlorum.

This season’s Catalans were a colourful mix of Tongans, Fijians, Papuans, Aussies, Kiwis, English and French - a broad palette of players, many of whom had just returned from the World Cup in Australia.

With very short preparation time, McNamara went to work. His project took its first painful twist when he lost half of the team to a frozen plastic pitch at Widnes in round one. Scrum-half Luke Walsh never fully recovered from an ankle injury which ultimately led to his retirement from the game.

The losses piled up on the pitch and we in the media were preparing for La Madame Guillotine to join us in post-match press conferences in Perpignan. The usual banalities appeared on English (anti)social media: “McBanana” this and “Crapalans” that but over here it was different.

The club had bought into McNamara’s long-term vision and, breaking with their fiery Latin shoot-first tactics of yesteryear, they stuck with their man.

More importantly, the supporters stuck with their man. Fans in the passion-pot Guasch Stand at the Gilbert Brutus seemed to empathise with the dignity and strength of their coach. Of course, their screams of ‘Putain’ and ‘Merdre’ were still de rigeur for referees or any Anglais who didn’t happen to be playing for their team - but Mac drew no flak.

Robert Mourgue, 87-years-old and the Dragons’ most loyal supporter, told me at the time: “Il est un homme bon…” he is a good man.

The French resistance to a change of coach held firm yet there was more pain to follow with defeat after defeat. Something had to give…

The turning point came at the end of April when the club brought Josh Drinkwater back to Super League from a building site in Australia. Before jet-lag and back-ache had worn off McNamara put him straight into the team to face Hull at home. The Dragons won it 25-24 with a last-gasp Tony Gigot drop-goal and they embarked upon a thrilling run to secure top eight safety against all odds.

The crowning glory of their revival came in the double-header Challenge Cup semi-final when they  knocked the stuffing out of St Helens and bumped them out of the competition at Bolton.

McNamara said then that the adversity his team had suffered earlier in the season was paying dividends: “Try seeing how close your group is when you’ve two wins from eleven. That’s when you find out if it’s splintered or not.”

For their next trick, their piéce de résistance, they splintered the glass ceiling of an overseas side winning a major Rugby Football League competition. Amid scenes of dizzy jubilation and a flurry of Catalonian flags, the Dragons soared to their zenith by beating Warrington Wolves 20-14.

McNamara can be excused for feeling a sense of déja vu during the game, his previous trip to Wembley was as England coach for the 2013 World Cup semi-final against New Zealand. The Kiwis were behind until the very closing moments of the match.

“For that last five minutes against Warrington,” he said, “I was sat thinking that clock’s going to get down to 21 seconds and Shaun Johnson is going to jump out the other side and score a try!”

Surreal indeed… back in the real world the Wolves were at the door, piling on pressure in the second half, could it be double Wembley heartbreak for McNamara?

There is a line in the Catalan anthem Els Segadors which is sung before all matches in Perpignan which reads “defensors de la terra” – defenders of the land. The Dragons stuck to the lyrics and tackled their way to the trophy with a defensive display worth singing about.

The final hooter was drowned out by a chorus of “Catalans, allez allez allez” and history was made.

The thousands of supporters who couldn’t travel to Wembley were rewarded with a return of the team to Perpignan in the early hours of Sunday morning where the party started at the airport and hasn’t yet fully ended.

Some hangovers are beginning to clear but there is still a dizziness - a surreal feeling over here - at the events of the past six months.

Trying to make sense of it all is Dragons’ chairman Bernard Guasch. The “meat magnate” of the region is a hard-nosed businessman with a soft spot for a game that he says: “Has given so much to me and my family.”

He has no time to stand and stare at the surreal picture of recent events - he is ensuring that the legacy of this historic cup win will boost Rugby League in France.

Already, the leader of the Catalan Government has visited the Stade Gilbert Brutus to celebrate the cup triumph and Guasch will parade the trophy before 100,000 football fans when Barcelona host Girona in the Catalan derby at Camp Nou on September 23rd.

“Winning the cup is just the beginning for us,” said the President. “It is a new start for this club. I hope that among the millions who have seen the cup final on TV there will be children who now dream of becoming a Catalans Dragons player.

“We have shown that anything is possible, and that French Rugby League can stand strong. We had nine French players in our cup final side and it is my ambition to bring more through the ranks. The future is French.”

In charge of this French renaissance next season will be an Englishman whose transition from favourite for le chop to potential coach of the year has been a surreal work of art.

Toulouse Olympique 10

Catalans Dragons 22

Denise Brady at Stade Albert Domec

ALL EYES were on James Maloney in Carcassonne but it was prodigal son Josh Drinkwater who had Catalans Dragons supporters on their feet with a vintage performance which rolled back the clock.

The decision to allow Drinkwater to leave after a half-season stint in 2018 in which he led the Dragons to Wembley glory did not go down well on the terraces of Stade Gilbert Brutus and he repaid their faith with a clinical display which helped steer Catalans to victory over a dangerous and determined Toulouse side.

His return from a one-year hiatus at Hull KR could be just as influential as the Dragons’ capture of NRL star Maloney. For their first time out together the Catalans’ half-backs looked like they were joined at the hip and their poise and composure shone out in the second half to help the Dragons turn the game around.

Could this be the elusive half-back pairing that Catalans have been waiting for in their eternal quest for consistency? Early signs are positive.

If everyone’s attention was on the Dragons’ new half-back combo, nobody told the championship’s French side who were full value for their slender half-time lead as they dominated the first half with some typically flamboyant and expansive Rugby League.

Toulouse went further ahead just after the break, but three tries mid-way through the second half saw the Super Leaguers flex their muscles as Drinkwater and Maloney formed an instant bond with full-back Sam Tomkins in a brand new back line.

With Michael McIlroum firing on all cylinders and a ferocious stint in the pack by Ben Garcia, Jason Baitieri and Rémi Casty, Catalans created the space for a three-try burst after the interval which settled this pre-season friendly.

Both teams gained valuable match-time in their only competitive fixture building up to the new season and only an injury to Dragons winger Lewis Tierney took the gloss off an entertaining game in front of 4,500 supporters.

Dragons coach Steve McNamara said: “Jimmy put some quality passes together to create tries but it’s his composure that stands out, he keeps people calm around him. When the match was in the balance he just managed to find that field position and rhythm to finish the game off.

“But all our halves did well and they were keen to play the full game. Josh came off with ten minutes to go but Jimmy and Sam Tomkins played the full eighty. It’s a brand new half-back combination so it was important that they spent as much time together today as possible.

 

“The only bad side today is it looks like Lewis Tierney has fractured his eye socket which is really disappointing for him and the squad considering the number of outside backs that are not available for us right now but we’ll get him checked out. It’s not looking great.”

 

It wasn’t looking great in the first half for the Dragons as Toulouse put together some typically flamboyant moves which were a constant threat. Mark Kheirallah’s pace combined with the energetic Stan Robin and Jonathon Ford in the halves kept Catalans on the back foot for long periods.

 

But terrific defensive work from Michael McIlorum and the Dragons pack kept Toulouse at bay and, as often happens, the counter-attack earned the first points of the game. Drinkwater found Maloney 20-metres from the line and the ball was shipped to Samisoni Langi who fed Tomkins to cross in the corner.

 

Toulouse hit back just before half-time when Robin created space for the impressive PJ Lima to score his first professional try and Kheirallah’s conversion made it 6-4 at the break. They went further ahead two minutes into the second half when Robin spun a pass to youth player Etienne Depeyre who crossed in the corner.

 

But the Catalan comeback started with an energetic burst and spin under the posts by McIlorum to level the scores then captain Rémi Casty dribbled between the uprights and grounded the ball to put his side ahead for the first time.

 

Arthur Romano finished off a powerful surge forward from Sam Kasiano to round off the scoring in the 64th minute and, despite battling valiantly to the end, Toulouse couldn’t strike back.

 

Sylvain Houles was not a disappointed coach: “I’m really pleased,” he told Catalan Media.

 

“I think we were committed and we fought for everything throughout the whole game. We had a few youngsters out there and they gained some valuable experience.

 

“No real injury issues following the game, Lloyd White got a bad knock on his leg and Max Puech hurt his neck but nothing major.

 

“We tried some new things with our attack and that’s what probably cost us in the game, we conceded three tries in the second half, but you have to try new things with new players and we learned a lot.

 

“I thought Harrison Hansen was superb in his first game for us. He showed us what he can do on the pitch and Lloyd White was very busy. I knew how good he was on attack but I was expecting him to be so good on defence, he really showed us what he can do today.

 

“Catalans are obviously a very good team and they know what to do on the pitch to control a game. When you look at the playmakers that they have now it was always going to be difficult but I thought we went well, particularly with our defence.

 

“We were quite unlucky at times, we could have scored and then one lucky bounce seemed to change the game but that’s footy. We need to be better than that, certainly at some stages in the game but it was really interesting for me to see what we are capable of.”

 

Catalans will have an opposed training session with Elite One side Lezignan tomorrow (Tuesday) in their only other competitive preparation for their 15th season in Super League but with their new Aussie duo at the helm they seem to have a settled confidence for the first time.

 

The mix and match approach of last season with Tony Gigot rotating with Matty Smith, Tomkins, Langi and Greg Bird proved to be their undoing. This new combination could be the catalyst for Catalans to finally fulfil their rich potential.

 

TOULOUSE: Mark Kheirallah 9, Paul Marcon 7, Taioalo Vaivai 7, Pierre-Jean Lima 8, Benjamin Laguerre 8, Jonathon Ford 8, Stanislas Robin 8, Paterika Vaivai 7, William Barthau 7, Maxime Puech 7, Joe Bretherton 8, Clement Boyer 7, Harrison Hansen 7, Subs: Lloyd White 7, Ben Evans 7, Justin Sangare 8, Pierre Fourquet 7, Justin Bouscayrol 7, Etienne Depeyre 7, Hugo Pezet 7, James Bell 7.

Tries: Lima (39), Depeyre (42). Goals: Kheirallah 1/2

 

CATALANS: Sam Tomkins 8, Arthur Romano 8, Samisoni Langi 7, Matt Whitley 7, Lewis Tierney 7, James Maloney 8, Josh Drinkwater 9, Julian Bousquet 7, Michael McIlorum 8, Mickael Simon 7, Benjamin Julien 7, Ben Garcia 8, Rémi Casty 7, Subs: Lucas Albert 7, Jason Baitieri 8, Sam Kasiano 7, Antoni Maria 7, Paul Seguier 7, Arthur Mourgue 7, Joe Chan 7, Matthieu Laguerre 7, Gavin Marguerite 7, Jordan Flovie 7, Valentin Zafra 7, Matthieu Cozza 7.

Tries: Tomkins (28), McIlorum (48), Casty (58), Romano (64). Goals: Maloney 3/4

 

Ref rating: J. Child 80/100 / Half-time: 6-4 / Penalties: 9-8 / Sin Bin: None / Sent Off: None /Weather: Cold, dry / Man of the Match: Josh Drinkwater (Catalans) / Attendance: 4,500 / Match Rating: 3/5.

Second half Super-men seal French pre-season derby

Try-scorer Michael McIlorum

Some French flair from Toulouse as they set their sights on Super League 

Time out for Tierney

CATALANS DRAGONS will intensify their search for new recruits this week following an injury to winger Lewis Tierney  (pictured) sustained during Saturday’s pre-season clash with Toulouse at Carcassonne.

Tierney sustained a suspected fracture of his eye socket and will have medical examinations in Perpignan today (Monday) to establish the extent of the injury.

The Dragons’ 22-10 victory was overshadowed by the loss of Tierney, coming at a time when options among the club’s outside backs are limited following the recent unexpected departure of centre Brayden Wiliame to the NRL.

Coach Steve McNamara admitted that the pressure was now on to find replacements with the new Super League season less than two weeks away.

He told Catalan Media: “It looks like Lewis Tierney has fractured his eye socket which is really disappointing for him and the squad considering the number of outside backs that are not available for us right now but we’ll get him checked out. It’s not looking great.”

Catalans have been linked with a number of prop forwards but their attention may now turn to the flanks with new signing Tom Davies sidelined until at least Round Three of the competition and David Mead and Fouad Yaha both currently unavailable with minor injuries.

Despite the setback, McNamara was pleased with the way his team performed in their only pre-season competitive match which saw James Maloney make his debut alongside Josh Drinkwater.

McNamara said: “Jimmy put some quality passes together to create tries but it’s his composure that stands out, he keeps people calm around him. When the game was in the balance he just managed to find that field position and rhythm to finish the game off.

“But all our halves did well and they were keen to play the full game. Josh Drinkwater came off with ten minutes to go but Jimmy and Sam Tomkins played the full eighty. It’s a brand new half-back combination so it was important that they spent as much time together today as possible.”

Toulouse coach Sylvain Houles was equally as happy, despite the defeat: “I think we were committed and we fought for everything throughout the whole game so I’m really pleased,” he told League Express.

“The main thing is there were no real injury issues. Lloyd White got a bad knock on his leg and Max Puech hurt his neck but nothing major.

“Catalans are obviously a very good team and they know what to do on the pitch to control a game. When you look at the playmakers that they have now it was always going to be difficult but I thought we went well, particularly with our defence.

“We were quite unlucky at times, we could have scored and then one lucky bounce seemed to change the game but that’s footy. We need to be better than that, certainly at some stages in the game but it was really interesting for me to see what we are capable of.”

Dragons still seek TV deal

CATALANS DRAGONS haven’t given up hope on a last-minute television deal to ensure Super League games are broadcast live from Perpignan in 2020.

Club chiefs are a hoping a commitment by Sky Sports to cover five matches at Stade Gilbert Brutus this season will encourage a French TV partner to come on board for the remaining league fixtures.

The decision by beIN Sports to cease coverage of Dragons games at the end of last season left the club seeking a new broadcast deal and meetings have taken place in Paris and Barcelona with executives from several media organisations.

Negotiations are still taking place and Catalans officials are refusing to give up, even if no contract is signed before the season starts.

President Bernard Guasch told Perpignan’s L’Independent newspaper: “I hope that a solution will be found quickly. Maybe we’ll start the season without television coverage before the situation unblocks.

“The Viá network is interested and will give us an answer early next week, and we are still in discussions with Eurosport.”

Vive la difference says coach Houles 

Joe Bretherton
Constantine Mika and William Barthau

By Steve Brady

TOULOUSE OLYMPIQUE are on a mission to revive French flair as they strive to scale the ladder to Super League in style.

Coach Sylvain Houles has a reputation for “doing things differently” with unique training methods and flamboyant matchday tactics, encouraging his players to throw the ball around with free-flowing attacking play.

And as the club embarks upon a new era in 2020 at Stade Ernest Wallon, Houles is determined to take his techniques “to another level.”

“Vive la difference,” Houles told Catalan Media. “We will continue to do things our way, we are a French club and we should celebrate that. We will be playing at a fabulous, state-of-the-art stadium this year and it’s important that we raise our standards.

“We like to play with a little flair, it’s what makes French Rugby League so exciting. We have a responsibility to entertain supporters but at the same time we are focused on winning games. Super League is our ambition.”

Toulouse just missed out on promotion from the championship last year, finishing second in the league table but defeats to Toronto and Featherstone in the play-offs put an end to hopes of reaching the top flight.

Houles has brought in four new recruits (Frank Winterstein, Harrison Hansen, Jy Hitchcox and William Barthau) in a bid to take Toulouse one step further.

“Our new players will bring big-game experience into what is already a very talented squad,” said the 38-year-old coach.

“They are established NRL and Super League players and their knowledge and experience is what we’re going to need this year.

“We’ve probably lacked that in the past and maybe that’s where we fell short. We were in situations sometimes where we needed a little more coolness under pressure in the big games, the play-offs. We’ve shown we are capable of competing with the best, we came second in the league last year, but at key moments in games our strategy let us down.

“In our new recruits we have got players who have been there and will know what to do in those crucial moments.”

“We were mentally and physically hurt after that first game in the playoffs when we lost in Toronto and we realised we weren’t quite good enough to beat them into Super League. So we’ve learned from that and we think we have brought in the kind of players that can get us over the line.”

Houles won’t be holding back on attack, however, and he intends to unleash his players on the bigger playing surface at Stade Wallon.

“We have moved to a fabulous new stadium and the pitch is much wider so we have to adapt to that. We are already renowned as an expansive team who likes to let the ball loose but last year we slipped into more mechanical ways, trying to wrestle in the tackle and concentrate on completions and kicks at the end of our sets.

“This year you will see a little more French flair I think. It’s what we are good at and we are going to use every inch of the pitch to our advantage.

“Stade Wallon is in another dimension compared to where we used to play in a little village. We’re back in the city in a famous stadium with top class facilities.

“The pitch has the very latest hybrid technology and it’s a fantastic surface to play on. We played there once last year and we attracted six thousand people. We are hoping that now we are there permanently, more and more people will come to see us.

“So it is important that we play the kind of rugby that people want to see. Of course we need to be winning games but I think you can throw the ball around and still come out on top.”

 

Toulouse captain Constantine Mika agreed with his coach, adding: “Our goal is to get into Super League and the players who have joined us this season have definitely strengthened our side. They’ve settled straight into our group which can be a challenge because we do things differently here at Toulouse.

“Our approach to training and the methods we use are unique, there’s a freshness and creativity that I think is reflected in the way we play the game.

“The new boys are keen to show us what they can do and the existing squad members are anxious to put a few things right that we didn’t do last year.”

The 30-year-old Samoa international started his career at NRL side Newcastle Knight before switching to Super League with Hull Kingston Rovers. Mika switched to French rugby union in Provence before returning to League with Toulouse in 2016.

He added: “Sylvain’s a pretty smart coach and he’s brought a new attitude to the game and the players have bought into it. At the same time we have to do the hard graft because the coming season is shaping up to be the toughest yet.

“It’s not getting any easier with all the clubs strengthening, it’s going to be a real battle this year which should be great for the supporters. As players it’s good to have that high standard of competition week-in week-out.

“We know we have to be better this year, finishing second isn’t good enough.”

 

New signing William Barthau has returned to France following a three-season stint at London Broncos. The 29-year-old former Catalans Dragons back is delighted to be back in his home country and is looking forward to turning out in the blue shirts of Toulouse.

“The French game is unique,” he said, adding: “When I came back from London I had to rediscover French culture and the way we play the game.

“The training methods are so different to anywhere else and we are being asked to look at everything differently. Along with strength and fitness conditioning we have yoga and meditation. The way we put the ball around in practise is so different to any other club.

“It is a refreshing approach and as a French player I’m very excited about the way we are going to play this season. You are going to see a new kind of rugby from Toulouse.

“I don’t want to give any secrets away but I can promise that people will enjoy watching Toulouse play Rugby League this year.

“We’ve got a massive opportunity to make a real mark here in the new stadium. It’s one of the best pitches in the country and we have no excuses now, we’ve got all the support and facilities we need, it’s up to us now to show what we can do.”

 

Former Wigan Warriors prop forward Joe Bretherton is a perfect example of how Toulouse “do things differently.”

Arriving here on loan in 2018 as a 6’5” front-rower, Bretherton is now playing on the wing after trying several positions in the team. He signed a full-tine contract for Toulouse last season and has never looked back.

He told Catalan Media: “It was a massive lifestyle change when I first moved out here. But it’s easy to fit in because the people are just like back home in the north west of England they are so down to earth and friendly.

“The biggest shock for me was the way Toulouse approach the game. I was used to the Wigan way and Shaun Wane’s tried and tested training techniques which have obviously been successful over the years.

“It is totally different here in Toulouse where it’s a very French approach. Sylvain explained to me that he wanted me to bring my experiences from Wigan to help build structure into the team but at the same time he wanted me to adopt to the free-flowing techniques at the club.

“So he’s tried me in the pack, at centre, even out on the wing, and I’m loving it. When you are given the freedom to explore other positions it makes you more aware of what your team-mates do, and more importantly what the opposition are up to.

“It helps with team spirit too because you can’t blame each other when things go wrong. Once you’ve played in their position you understand more clearly what is expected in that role.

“It’s going to be a tough year. It’s now or never for us because every year it’s getting more and more difficult to get into Super League with standards improving all the time.

“We’re in a new stadium close to the city centre and the brand of Rugby League we intend to play this year is sure to bring in more people to help grow the game in France.

“There’s a lot of optimism over here at the moment, new teams like Valencia in Spain are cropping up and Catalans and Toulouse are continuing to grow.

“I feel very lucky to be part of the game’s development in France. Rugby League was massive over here before the war and if we get Toulouse into the top flight it can only be good for the sport.

“Two Super League sides from France would open people’s eyes and encourage more players to try the game.”

 

Toulouse Olympique will face Catalans Dragons on Saturday January 18th (kick-off 3.30pm UK-time) at Stade Albert Domec, Carcassonne. The match is part of Elite One club Carcassonne XIII’s 80th anniversary celebrations.

Metal Mickey!

Goudemand gets a bionic finger...

Catalans star fixes his dodgy digit

By Steve Brady

MICKAEL GOUDEMAND has got a head start in the race to be Man Of Steel in 2020 after replacing one of his fingers with a metal digit.

The 23-year-old Catalans Dragons forward saw last season ruined by a niggling injury to his right hand - sustained during a match against London Broncos in May. Two operations to repair the damage were unsuccessful and now he has had the main joint of his ring finger removed and replaced with a titanium prosthetic.

“Fingers-crossed, that should be an end to it,” Goudemand said with a wry smile.

“It has been the most frustrating time of my life, it ruined last season for me. It was getting to the point where I was going to ask Mr Guasch (club president Bernard who owns a meat processing business) to chop it off.”

The French international admitted the past eight months had been “a nightmare.” He told Catalan Media: “I first did the injury in May, it was a complete dislocation and I had an operation to put it back together but I was too keen to play and I returned too soon and it went again.

“I had a second operation where they put pins in it to support the joint but that didn’t work and then it gave way early in pre-season so I had to have major surgery where they replaced the joint with a titanium one.

“They have assured me that this will be the end of it and I certainly hope so. It’s been one of those stupid, niggling injuries which doesn’t seem serious but causes so much pain and annoyance.

“It came at the worst time too because everything was going so well, I was happy with my form, I had been getting regular first-team experience and the club gave me a new contract and then this happened. It has been driving me crazy.”

Goudemand’s star had been rising rapidly following his debut for the Dragons in 2018. Quickly selected for the national team, the promising youngster was being tipped as the new flame for French Rugby League as a serious of powerful performances helped propel the Dragons to Wembley and historic Challenge Cup glory.

Last season started on the same trajectory until the finger gave way during an innocuous tackle and the past eight months have been the most painful of his career.

He said: “I want to be my best and play to my full potential but every time I caught the ball or went into a tackle I could feel this severe pain and it puts you off your game. For just a finger I’ve missed half a year of my career and it’s incredibly frustrating.

“My first two operations weren’t successful but now I have a prosthetic joint. I’ve got a brand new finger made of steel and it’s only a week after the operation but already it feels better.

“I’m seeing the surgeon next week and hoping to have the dressing removed and start to move the new joint. I should be ready to play in Round Four. I will have to wear some protection early on but if all goes well it should be as good as new, if not better.”

Goudemand is anxious to recreate the early success of his time at Stade Gilbert Brutus, adding: “When I started in 2018 the atmosphere was very good and that was my best year with the team. The spirit was good in the group and we went on to win the Challenge Cup.

“Last season started well but the team spirit was not quite as good. We won at Barcelona in the big game against Wigan but things seemed to fall apart after that.

“I actually missed the Nou Camp game because of this finger. All my family and friends had booked tickets to come and see me play and I ended up sitting in the stands with them. But that’s life, c’est la vie.

“I think this year’s going to be very good for the Dragons. We’ve signed a great new half-back in James Maloney and Drinky’s back (Josh Drinkwater) which is good news for the team as we missed a settled partnership last year.

“Pre-season has been very intense and you can feel the cohesion in the squad. All the players respect what the coaches are trying to do here, it’s very serious at training and we know exactly what we need to do this year.

“But at the same time it is a very friendly club where all the players mix together socially. We have a beer together and spend time with each other.

“I am from Avignon, and there are a few players here from the same town but we mix with all the overseas players just the same.

“It’s very important for a club like ours that all the players are in it together. If we can get some of the spirit of 2018 back, along with the new players, I think it could be a very good year for Catalans Dragons.”

  • Facebook Clean
  • Twitter Clean
  • Flickr Clean

© 2018 Catalan Media. Proudly made by Wix.com