Forty-20 Column: The Morning After
Is there a bigger, more frustrating enigma in rugby league than the Catalans Dragons? They rank alongside Leon Pryce for the title, so that was a great fit when he was Canet-based.
Laurent Frayssinous’s men ooze with talent and, when they put it together, are at times unplayable and always a joy to watch.
A big, bruising but mobile pack, creative halves and speed out wide, it’s a potent mix but, like suquet de peix, samfaina and crèma catalane, washed down with cava, it appears so much better home-cooked.
Many predicted that Les Dragons would challenge the top four in 2015 and their form at the Stade Gilbert Brutus would have had them chasing a semi-final – away, they have won at Wakefield, a shocking case of mal d’avion.
Much of the optimism about them for SLXX was because of the signing of Todd Carney who has battled a succession of injuries.
On Saturday, now back and revelling in the space provided for him, he toyed with Leeds in le dinner jacket, his round the back pass to Jordan Sigismeau, a rising young star for the sang-et-or fans to get really behind, who went on an 80 metre gallop to the line, the piece de resistance.
There was real emotion before the kick off with the Catalonian national anthem sung with added fervour, the day before having been Catalonia National Day with a big independence march in Barcelona, together with the fare-welling of five stalwarts on their last home appearance; Scott Dureau, Ian Henderson, Benjamin Garcia and magnificent second-row pairing Zeb Taia and Elliott Whitehead.
There may be others departing, man-of-the-match Krisnan Inu showing his worth as the Rhinos – without enough creative spark owing, in-part to three injured pivots – were swept aside.
The Dragons, along with Halifax, are keeping the 8s concept alive. With, supposedly, little to play for, they have beaten St Helens, Castleford and Leeds in their home games with no chance of getting to Old Trafford, ironic really as last year in a similar run from eighth, they were 80 minutes from the Grand Final.
The intensely passionate supporters in the region now have to wait until February to see their side play again, which is a shame – and, hopefully, Carney will still be with them as the NRL sniff around his rehabilitation.
Leeds’s performance, like that of most of the sides, top or bottom of the Super 8s indicates that everyone is playing too much rugby, burnout is the antithesis to supposed player welfare. Ratcheting up the intensity whilst at the same time extending the season mitigates against the idea that we should be looking after those who so entrain us.
Huddersfield, however, look to be timing their run superbly, with a settled side, well-executed and effective game plan and a winger who is on fire.
The Qualifiers at the top end have panned out as expected, Wakefield, with two championship sides left to play, should make the million pound brouhaha and the battle then becomes who they play, with all of the ones below them mathematically still in with a chance, but looking increasingly like they’d struggle in the top-flight in 2016 if ultimately successful.
Which is why Halifax’s efforts are so admirable – and begs the question, with their three year plan set and not involving being in Super League initially, preferring, responsibly to build infrastructure first, would they want to accept a place at base camp for the summit if they won through?
Adrian Morley bowed out at home for the Red Devils coming towards the end of a truly magnificent career, anyone so equally revered in Australia is up there with the very best of any era, a special talent but one measured principally by the respect of his peers.
The sport is losing some immense icons in 2015 who have known little other than being full-time players, the first true generation of predominantly Super League stars hanging up their coloured boots. We have to continue to find true and meaningful roles for them off field, they are the ones who can drive the sport forward from the inside, a resource we have never had before.
Intensely close play-off games, watched by record crowds and the current champions out. We shouldn’t compare with the NRL, it’s not like for like, but it remains our benchmark.
The broadest smiles in Perpignan the morning after.