It’s time to strike while the iron is hot – and that’s why Toulouse must get promoted to Super League.
After Catalans’ Challenge Cup success breathed life in to the rugby league believers, in continual disdain over the indecisiveness of the game’s administrators and owners, the successful progress through The Qualifiers for Toulouse would be a shot in the arm for French rugby league.
Of course, it’s a case of what might have been. Rugby league was banned in France during the Second World War by the Vichy government, and who knows where the sport might be had it been able to take over mainland Europe, rather than be constrained to its traditional northern England heartlands for so long.
It may be that the ship has sailed and by now, there is just too much catch up to be played for rugby league against its rivals.
But if Toulouse, with one win from two so far, can take advantage of a freefalling Widnes, who they face in France this weekend, to become the second French side in Super League, we may then have something that resembles the vision of a European Super League that was set out at its inception in 1996.
The worry is that despite Catalans’ presence in the top flight for 13 years, rugby league in France hasn’t kicked on. Its league isn’t any more competitive, and of course the best players are taken away from it by the Dragons, and most recently Toulouse.
It’s meant the dream of having a competitive France national side, to enable England to have more test matches to help prepare them to overturn Australia, has long been forgotten.
But the profile of the Dragons’ famous Challenge Cup win and the rivalry that would exist between them and Toulouse in terms of fighting to be the best French club and fighting for the best players, may well prove the catalyst for the above to change.
For me, Toulouse are the best all round attacking team in the Championship. The variation of their play and the different lynchpins they have across the team make them attractive to watch, a far cry from the one up rugby employed by some of the more conservative British teams.
Their full back Mark Kheirallah would be an asset to Super League, while the eccentric Johnathon Ford can turn any game.
With William Barthau and Stan Robin good players in their own right, and the likes of wide-running Rhys Curran, it wouldn’t take a great deal for Toulouse to become competitive in the top flight – just as long as they sort out their defence.
Catalans’ Challenge Cup success has highlighted yet another flaw with the current structure though – they have effectively written off their Super 8s campaign to earn their Wembley success, and Micky McIlorum’s comments of hoping he didn’t have to play this week against Castleford shows where their priorities have lay, and who can blame them.
News of the possible collapse of the planned World Cup in America in 2025 is as unsurprising as it is disappointing. We’re not quite at the told you so point yet, but this unhinged strategy of expansion while the foundations are falling apart on the sand they are built on needs to stop.
As one fan put it “A minority sport with ideas of grandeur way beyond reality.”
Rugby league is in my blood and I will always love it – but you won’t find me arguing with that.