Amidst all the talk of Sam Tomkins’ role in setting up a reunion with Wigan Warriors at Old Trafford on Saturday, Catalans Dragons boss Steve McNamara was keen to highlight the work done by their French players in driving the club forward.
Hull native McNamara took over at the Stade Gilbert Brutus midway through the 2017 campaign, guiding them to survival by the skin of their teeth with a win over Leigh in the Million Pound Game.
Ben Garcia and Julian Bousquet both lined up in the first game of 2018, a 40-12 thumping to a Widnes Vikings side who would go on to win just two more games in the regular season and be relegated in The Qualifiers.
An eighth-placed finish that year saw the Dragons narrowly avoid being embroiled in the race for survival, though the road to glory began with a first-ever Challenge Cup triumph, shocking Warrington Wolves at Wembley.
Skip forward five years, and Catalans are now preparing for their second Grand Final, with Garcia and Bousquet at the forefront of their evolution. Head coach McNamara hailed the pair, along with namedropping some of their other native stars.
Steve McNamara: ‘It’s about the French boys… They’re the heartbeat of our club’
Speaking at Thursday’s press conference at Old Trafford, the former England coach said: “Us foreigners, we’ve gone across there (to France) and we’ve tried to embed ourselves in their culture, and do the best that we possibly can.
“There’s a lot of talk around this game, and quite rightly so, with Sam because of his connection with Wigan and everything that he’s done in the game, but this game is about the French.
“It’s about Ben Garcia, Julian Bousquet, Paul Seguier, Arthur Romano, Alrix Da Costa, Fouad Yaha. Those boys are the backbone of our team and our organisation, they genuinely are. They’re the heartbeat of our club, and I get all the talk around Sam, but in reality it’s about France.
“It’s about the French boys. It’s about everything they’ve committed to be the best that they can possibly be, and the improvements that they’ve made . They’re the main reason why this club has made such a transition from being an inconsistent team to such a consistent one.
“Sam has brought some standards, and so have players like Michael McIlorum that we’ve brought in, but our French players are as professional as any players you’ll see in the competition right now.
“Our young French players coming through are now following the example of the senior French players as well as Sam Tomkins etc. It’s been good to see that grow and develop.”
Catalans captain says team are ‘doing it for everyone in France’
Of Spanish and Algerian descent, captain Garcia was born in Apt, a village somewhere in the region of 200 miles from Perpignan and the Stade Gilbert Brutus.
The forward played in Australia in his infancy, and returned there with a view to featuring in the NRL with Penrith Panthers in 2016, but there’s no place like Catalans for him. He will lead the Dragons out in Saturday’s showpiece for what will be a 219th club appearance.
30-year-old Garcia – who also has 15 caps for France to his name – added: “The club have worked for so many years to win this trophy and bring it back to France.
“As you saw last week (in the semi-final victory against St Helens), we have really passionate fans. It’s hard for them to come here, but we know we’ll have many fans who will show their support (at home).
“For us, this team, and for French rugby league, it would be massive. It’s for the kids and for everyone in France.”