Expansionist Blog: A Challenge Cup win for Catalans would be enormous for rugby league in France

Drew Darbyshire

A win for Catalans in the Challenge Cup final could change the face of rugby league in France.

The Dragons face Warrington Wolves in the Challenge Cup on Saturday and history will be made one way or another, whether it is Catalans lifting the Challenge Cup for the first time ever or Warrington winning it for the fourth time in 10 seasons.

Warrington may have more fans at Wembley Stadium on Saturday, but Catalans will probably have more fans supporting them because it seems every other English team will be cheering on the French side!

France has a rich history with rugby league but it isn’t too well-known. The sport was gaining popularity before the Second World War, but it took a huge step backwards when the rugby union authorities and Nazi government banned rugby league across the whole of France.

Years after the war, it started to filter back in across cities in the country but it isn’t to this day as popular as it was back in the 1930s, but the south of France has always had a passion for the 13-aside code.

Since then, Catalans Dragons were created – a merger between XIII Catalans and Saint-Estéve.

Catalans have had plenty of highs and lows since they joined Super League in 2006. They reached the Challenge Cup Final in just their second season as a Super League club but they fell at the final hurdle to St Helens.

Just two of their squad that day remain at the French club in Remi Casty and Vincent Duport. Casty is set to captain the Dragons on Saturday, so how good an achievement would it be for the 33-year-old to lift the prestigious Cup? He has made over 260 appearances for the club after all…

But let’s look at the bigger picture.

Catalans Dragons winning the Challenge Cup could be absolutely massive for French rugby league. It could inspire more French youngsters to pick up a rugby ball and want to be the next Tony Gigot or Ben Garcia.

A cup win for the Dragons could even catch the eye of the country. It could catch the eye of the French national press. It could catch the eyes of thousands of curious on-looking spectators.

Catlanas have a great opportunity to make history for the club itself on Saturday, but they have an even bigger opportunity to make a big impression on the rest of France.

It could, possibly, take rugby league back to the position it was in before the Second World War when attendances were comfortably over 20,000.