The rugby league season edges ever nearer and while excitement builds, there remains a question that is almost impossible to answer.
Both Super League and the Championship have the relatively unique challenge of accommodating overseas travel, at a time where even the world’s richest in Champions League football are being prevented from playing in certain countries due to COVID.
There is simply no way of knowing right now, what the situation will be in just over a month’s time when Catalans are due to play their first game.
Will Catalans and Toulouse base themselves in the UK?
Plans for the Dragons to relocate to the UK for the start of the season, appear to have cooled, with concerns being raised over player welfare and of course the cost in doing so.
It certainly would not be a feasible option for Toulouse, who themselves will find travelling a challenge without the sort of financial support that the Dragons can count on owner Bernard Guasch for.
A Toulouse spokesperson said: “We are collectively working through all of the regulation and protocols, with the RFL, the French RL Federation and the Catalan Dragons, with the aim to find the best possible solution.
“We are fully committed to compete in the Championship in 2021.”
Will players have to quarantine on returning from France?
Super League and the Championship, alongside League 1 and Women’s Super League, have been afforded elite sport status, meaning that the clubs returning to the UK from France will be able to bypass any quarantine restrictions or similar that are in place.
It’s unlikely that standard passenger flights will be used to transport teams, with discussions ongoing about how best to save costs all round during the season with a pragmatic fixture list.
Points percentage system
There’s an admission that the overseas element of the competitions may well prevent a full season being completed, which has resulted in the points percentage system – used in Super League last season – being implemented in both competitions.
A minimum threshold of games will be set though, likely to be around the 70% mark, which must be reached to play in the play-offs.
Catalans managed to play 13 games to finish 4th in the table in 2020 – six fewer than Wakefield (19) and three fewer than the next lowest (Castleford, 16).
The other five teams in the play-offs all played 17 games, after the season was brought to an abrupt end.
Initially, the plan was to get to 22 rounds of the revised season – and 15 games was to be the minimum qualification, but that was scrapped with the early finish.
Clubs will soon ratify the exact requirements for 2021.
Early season fixtures
Toulouse are not due to play a home game until the visit of London Broncos on April 17, by which time the COVID situation will likely have changed significantly.
Their only game prior to then is their season opener at York, after they opted not to play in the Challenge Cup.
The Super League fixtures are yet to be announced, but it’s unlikely that Catalans will have a home game in the first few rounds – with their opening “home” game in round one being held at Headingley, the central venue hosting all six on the opening weekend.
Other problems for Catalans
On top of the travelling conundrum, Catalans have not been able to train together yet – and must wait until March 1st to do so, owing to the recent Government funding they have been afforded.
Coach Steve McNamara said: “Super League clubs are able to train and get the Government support as well, and I know the Championship clubs were on it all last year as well.
“For us, we were at the other extreme with no Government support, plus the additional costs of all the private flights.
“But we’re okay and everyone is in a tough situation right now, so we’ll deal with it and we’ll be ready.
“We’re fortunate to have Bernard and the rest of the board, along with some of our partners who contribute financially.
“Bernard’s not a super-rich guy – he’s not a multi, multi-millionaire like some Super League owners – he’s not in that type of bracket at all.
“But he’s just managed to find a way for us and we’re all grateful for that.”
The Super League fixtures are due to be released on February 26.
Catalans and Toulouse are due to play each other in a pre-season friendly on March 13.