French Elite players put their hands up for Super League moves

James Gordon
Morgan Escare Dean Whare Hakim Miloudi French Elite players

The player pool looks set to be boosted for Super League and Championship clubs by the end of the French Elite Championship season next month.

The final round of regular season fixtures takes place this weekend, before the play-off series involving the top six clubs culminates with the Championship final on May 27/28.

That means several players have already started to explore the possibility of playing in Super League, or more likely the Championship.

Included in that group of players is former Toronto and Barrow centre Hakim Miloudi, who helped Albi reach the Lord Derby Cup final at the weekend, and is almost certain to make a return to the UK following the culmination of the Elite season – most likely with Barrow.

The additional restrictions on player movement brought about by Brexit limits the possibility of European-born players to move to the UK, unless they have the appropriate number of international appearances in recent seasons.

It has caused some French players, including Miloudi, issues in the past – although those who have made regular appearances in Super League or Championship in recent seasons should be OK.

Miloudi told Love Rugby League: “I would be happy to come back to England.

“It obviously depends on contracts and clubs, but I’m really keen. My son was born in Barrow!

“I know Barrow are a little keen. My manager Graeme Taylor is talking to another club as well.”

The RFL has been thought to be lobbying to have the French Elite Championship added to the list of elite competitions, that help players earn enough appearances to qualify for a work permit.

Without that clearance it’s unlikely that former NRL centre Tim Simona, who last played for Lezignan in 2020, will be able to make a move to Super League.

The ex-Samoa international was effectively banned for life from the NRL back in 2017 for betting on games, and rumoured moves by Hull KR and Toronto to sign him for the 2018 season fell through due to him not meeting the RFL’s eligibility criteria.

More chances for French youngsters at Catalans and Toulouse

Neither Catalans (St Esteve) or Toulouse’s reserve teams have qualified for the French Elite Championship play-offs, which will improve player availability for their first teams.

One player who has been turning out for St Esteve is three-quarter Romain Franco, who has previously made seven appearances for the Dragons, and also featured for France B against England Knights in October.

Franco told TreizeMondial: “My goal is to stay at the top level, so I continue to work hard for that, whether in bodybuilding or on the pitch, so I’m not closing the door either to the Dragons or to a possible departure to England.”

Toulouse have been forced to dip in to their reserve line-up on regular occasions this season, having entered the campaign with a small squad and suffering a spate of injuries. Injury problems at Catalans has also impacted on plans to dual-register players between the two outfits.

Robin Brochon has deputised at full-back, while prop Dimitri Biscarro has played in their last four games as he looks to earn a professional deal.

Biscarro said: “My individual objectives are to accumulate as much playing time and experience as possible in order to obtain a professional contract.”

Toulouse coach Sylvain Houles is keen to give as much playing time as possible to his French prospects, as IMG are expected to enforce a quota on homegrown players in forthcoming years.

Injuries have also forced Steve McNamara’s hand at Catalans, with youngster Tanguy Zenon starting at full-back in their defeat to Warrington at the weekend.

The likes of Bastien Scimone, Tiaki Chan and Loan Castano have also featured in his squads this year, while 20-year-old half-back Cesar Rouge is France’s big hope for the future.

Escare and Gigot head list of other Elite players that could be available

Amongst the other squads in the French Elite Championship, the most obvious candidates are ones that have turned out in Super League in the past.

Carcassonne full-back Morgan Escare is likely to have suitors, as is maverick playmaker Tony Gigot.

Lezignan forward Jason Baitieri was linked with a move to Bradford recently, while Carcassonne forwards Clement Boyer and Bastien Canet have Championshipe experience.

It’s unlikely that veterans James Maloney (Lezignan) and Con Mika (Limoux) would be tempted for a stint back in England, though maybe Lezignan duo Corey Norman and James Segeyaro would move for the right deal.

Some other options for English clubs to look at are former New Zealand international centre Dean Whare, now at Pia, and his club team-mate Benjamin Jullien, who has of course played in Super League before for Catalans and Warrington.

Former St Helens back-rower Joseph Paulo is also at Pia, though at the age of 35 may well be looking to wind down having helped Toulouse to promotion to Super League in 2021.

Limoux hooker Justin Bouscayrol has had some brief exposure to the Championship in previous years with Toulouse, as has winger Tony Maurel, who scored 53 tries in 95 appearances for Olympique up to 2020.

Possible returnees to the English game

At St Gaudens, Papua New Guinean winger Kuni Minga is unlikely to be able to qualify for a work permit, but loose forward David Weetman is a candidate.

The Englishman has already played for Newcastle, Workington and Midlands Hurricanes, the latter as recently as 2022, and had also earned a move to Keighley for the doomed coronavirus season of 2020.

Former Scotland starlet Connor Terrill became the latest UK-based player to try their arm at the French Elite Championship earlier this season, when he joined Villeneuve.

Terrill was Scotland’s Under 19s Player of the Year in 2019, earning him a semi-professional deal with Barrow. He has also turned out for North Wales, Coventry, Workington and West Wales in the UK.

Although Villeneuve have finished bottom of the Elite Championship, Terrill – still only 21 – will have gained a lot from the experience. He could be another that returns to boost Barrow’s Championship squad.

Scotland international Oscar Thomas, who has played for London Broncos, London Skolars, Bradford, Sheffield, Swinton, Rochdale, Whitehaven and Workington, has also had a brief stint with the Leopards recently.

Another Villeneuve player, 26-year-old half-back Thomas Lasvenes, is highly-rated – though apart from a call-up to the France 9s squad for the 2019 World Cup of the shortened version of the game, he hasn’t had any international exposure.

The French Elite Championship has enjoyed greater exposure in recent seasons and the increase in quality has made it a more attractive prospect for players to move following the end of the UK season in September/October.

But it is also now becoming an increasingly useful option for English clubs to look at strengthening their squads mid-season amidst what is becoming a tricky player market, due to the frequency of injuries and the reserves set up.

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