Les Catalans Dragons were formed in 2000 as the club Union Treiziste Catalan (UTC). In 2003 it was announced that the club was to enter Super League in 2005. The club then changed its name to Perpignan, then again to Les Catalans Dragons. The date of entry was also deferred, the club joining Super League in 2006 instead. However, the Dragons have made a success of their time in Super League.
UTC were formed as a merger of the clubs XIII Catalan and St Estéve. XIII Catalan – based in Perpignan – were founder members of the French rugby league Championship in 1934. The game had been introduced to France after the French rugby union team was suspended from internationals for foul play in the Five Nations. The game spread thanks to the fforts of people such as Jean Galia who held exhibition games in Paris and led a French side on tour to the UK in 1934. XIII Catalan were champions in 1935/36, and again four years later.
XIII Catalan therefore were one of the teams to suffer when rugby league was banned by the wartime French Vichy government. Rugby league and its professionalism was seen as a corrupter of the French nation and its assets were taken away by the government and given to the French rugby union, who were very much complicit in these events. French rugby league never truly recovered. The game was banned from referring to itself as “rugby” until – astoundingly – as late as 1991. Instead the game had to be names “Jeu à Treize”, or “Game of Thirteen”.
French rugby league underwent a rennaissance in the 1950s, competing at the same level as Australia, Great Britain andf New Zealand. The first ever Rugby World Cup was held in France in 1954, a mjor achivement even though France lost to Great Britain in the final in Paris. The game, however, was still in decline beneath the surface, and many of France’s best players drifted over the rugby union.
St Estéve were founded in 1965, also in Perpignan. Both they and XIII Catalan competed in the French Championship with some success XIII Catalan won a third championship in 1969/69, and went on to win a further seven titles, making ten overall. St Estéve won their first championship in 1988/89 and retained their title the following year. They went on to win another, beating XIII Catalan 9-8 in Toulouse in 1993, before two back-to-back victories in 1996/97 and 1997/98 brought the total to five.
It was around this time that Paris St Germain were introduced to Super League, in the inugural 1996 season. The club got off to a great start in front of a big crowd in Paris, defeating Sheffield Eagles in the first ever Super League game. But Paris finished 11th that season and soon went into decline. The real rugby league interest lay in southern France, and a Paris-based team was not sustainable. Atendances dipped, performances failed to improve, and the club left Super League at the end of 1997 and were disbanded.
In 2000 UTC were formed by a merger of the two Perpignan sides XIII Catalan and St Estéve. In 2002 St Cyprien became the third team to throw their lot in with UTC. UTC reached the French Grand Final in 2002 and 2004 before finally winning the Championship in 2004/05. By this time their entry into Super League had already been confirmed by the Rugby Football League who were keen to help rugby league in France. UTC were chosen ahead of other likely candidates Villenueve Leopards and Toulouse Olympiqué, the latter of which will compete in the new Co-operative Championship.
Les Catalans Dragons began life in Super League in 2006. Although they finished bottom of the league they attracted a large number of fans to Stade Aimé Girale. In 2007 the club relocated to the Stade Gilbert Brutus, which had been extensively renovated for their needs. The Dragons also reached the Challenge Cup final, the first at the renovated Wembley Stadium, although they lost 31-8 to St Helens. In 2008 the Catalans had an excellent season and finished third in Super League. The club now averages around 8-9,000 fans, a very respectable figure.