All eyes will be on Perpignan this weekend as Catalans Dragons take on a French Elite Championship selection to kick-off their pre-season campaign.
For France coach Laurent Frayssinous, it provides the ideal chance to see how some of their best domestic players get on against the Dragons outfit, which itself will include several promising young French stars who have been turning out for St Esteve in recent weeks.
The game will take place at Stade Aime Giral, the home of Perpignan rugby union, on Saturday (March 6, 2pm UK time), with the Stade Gilbert Brutus being used for a French Cup football match between Canet and Olympique Marseille.
Here, we profile the 22-man squad that has been named by the French selectors.
Tony Gigot (Full back, 30, Avignon, 15 caps)
This man needs no introduction. The 2018 Lance Todd Trophy winner has breathed life in to Avignon’s season and will no doubt have a point to prove against his former employers.
Louis Jouffret (Half-back, 25, Avignon, uncapped)
Another familiar face to English fans, Jouffret spent five seasons in the UK with Whitehaven, Batley and Featherstone, before a planned move to Ottawa Aces fell through after they deferred their entry to League 1. His link with Gigot has excited Bisons fans, and he is yet to make a full international debut.
Romain Pourret (Loose forward, 30, Avignon, 1 cap)
A stalwart of the French Championship, Pourret has spent the past 12 years at Avignon, winning the league title in 2018. He made his solitary international appearance in the 54-2 win over Serbia in October 2018.
Saloty Mendy (Prop, 23, Avignon, 1 cap)
A prop who spent time with Catalans Dragons academy without breaking through to the first team. He has had spells at St Esteve and Avignon in French Elite, as well as spending a spell on loan at Barrow in 2018.
Nittim Pedrero (Winger, 23, Albi, uncapped)
The only Albi player in the squad, Pedrero is an exciting winger with an excellent try record in the French Elite Championship. He has scored 41 tries in 40 appearances in the last three seasons. A rugby union player in his youth, the Albi union club ditched him when he decided to try rugby league.
Lucas Albert (Half-back, 22, Carcassonne, 5 caps)
An exciting young talent, Albert made his Super League debut for Catalans at the age of 17, but left at the end of 2020 after growing frustrated with a lack of opportunity. He has since linked up with Carcassonne, and already boasts international experience from the 2017 World Cup, European Championships and the Rugby League 9s.
Vincent Albert (Centre, 24, Carcassonne, uncapped)
Cousin of Lucas, strong centre Vincent has spent his career in the French Championship and was the competition’s top try scorer in 2018. He won the French Cup with Carcassonne in 2017 and 2019, scoring twice in the 2017 final victory in his first season.
Bastien Canet (Prop, 27, Carcassonne, 3 caps)
It’s a surprise that the tough prop hasn’t earned more than three caps, particularly considering the 75 appearances he made for Toulouse between 2015 and 2018 as they re-established themselves in the RFL pyramid. Either side of that spell, he has played for Carcassonne and was in the France 9s squad in 2019.
Georgy Gambaro (Winger, 22, Carcassonne, uncapped)
Part of a dynamic Carcassonne back line with eight tries so far this season, Gambaro moved to the Canaries from Palau Broncos. He is another that was given a chance to impress at Catalans’ academy, without graduating to the first team. Scored two tries in an eight-game stint with Barrow in the Championship in 2018.
Mickaël Simon (Prop, 33, Carcassonne, 17 caps)
Familiar to Super League fans, Simon played more than 150 times for Catalans either side of a couple of seasons at Wakefield. Very much an established international player, he moved to his hometown club after deciding to depart the Dragons at the end of 2020.
Lilian Albert (Back-row, 29, Lezignan, uncapped)
A versatile back-rower or centre, Albert has averaged almost a try every other game during a long career in the Elite Championship, where he has also turned out for Carcassonne, Toulouse and Villeneuve. He was voted the best French player of 2020 by fans on TreizeMondial.
Valentin Ferret (Centre, 27, Lezignan, uncapped)
The top try scorer in the French Elite Championship with 13 tries will perhaps never have a better chance to force his way in to the national team. Last month, he played down his chances of selection, saying those playing in other competitions had a better chance.
Romain Puso (Loose forward, 23, Limoux, 1 cap)
One of several players who made their international debut against Serbia in 2018, Puso was a France Under 18 international and made his French Championship debut at the age 17, part of the back-to-back championsip winning Limoux squads in 2016 and 2017.
Valentin Yesa (Prop, 25, Limoux, 3 caps)
Played against England in 2018, Yesa has not quite reached the heights that were predicted of him as a teenager, but has built a nice career for himself off the field. He too was part of the back-to-back Limoux championship victories in 2016 and 2017, after coming through the ranks at Toulouse.
Hakim Miloudi (Centre, 27, Palau, 2 caps)
Arguably the second most recognisable player after Gigot in the squad, Miloudi ended up back in France following the demise of Toronto Wolfpack. His switch to the Wolfpack came following the end of his time at Hull FC, who he joined following a trial in 2017. During a loan spell in 2018, he equalled Doncaster’s record for most points scored in a match, with 32. Comfortable anywhere in the backs, Miloudi plays alongside his brother for Palau and is their only call up.
Alexis Meresta-Doucet (Hooker, 26, St Esteve, uncapped)
The hooker will play against his parent club as one of two St Esteve players facing the Dragons. He has been with St Esteve since 2012 and was called up to the France squad in 2018, but didn’t play.
Romain Khedimi (Prop, 19, St Esteve, uncapped)
Signed a full-time deal with Catalans in 2019, some years after choosing to play both codes, which resulted in the Perpignan rugby union club forcing him to choose. Younger brother of France international Matthieu, Romain has already made an impression at the age of just 19 and has the physical attributes to make an impact.
Justin Bouscayrol (Hooker, 23, Toulouse, uncapped)
📷 Charlotte STRICANEhttps://t.co/x8VqehcK1o
— Toulouse Olympique XIII (@TOXIII) March 2, 2021
A lively young hooker who will be looking to forge his way in to the Toulouse first team in the (RFL) Championship once again. He made a handful of appearances a couple of seasons ago, and is now leading a young reserve side around the park, as well as being an accomplished goalkicker.
Clement Boyer (Prop, 26, Toulouse, 5 caps)
Rangy forward Boyer was nominated for League 1 Young Player of the Year in 2016 and previously had a brief stint at Halifax. Following the lack of (RFL) Championship action in 2020, he has turned out 10 times for Toulouse’s French Elite side this season.
Thomas Lasvenes (Full back, 24, Villeneuve, uncapped)
The Leopards captain can play at the back or in the halves and is a creative playmaker in a Villeneuve side that likes to play good rugby. A prolific points scorer, he has 647 points in 102 appearances in the French Elite Championship, though remains uncapped by the national team.
Gavin Marguerite (Centre, 25, Villeneuve, 1 cap)
Another player impacted by the Ottawa Aces deferral was Marguerite, who ended up at Villeneuve after a frustrating 12 months. The strong-running centre left Toulouse at the end of 2019 to join Catalans Dragons, but wasn’t able to break in to the first team before option to join the Aces for 2021 until that fell through.
Stanislas Robin (Half-back, 30, Villeneuve, 5 caps)
Third top try scorer in the French Elite Championship with nine, Robin is also top of the Man of Steel style rankings for players in the competition. Now 30, he made 10 appearances for Catalans between 2012 and 2016, and has since played for Sheffield and Toulouse in the Championship, before moving to Villeneuve for 2020.
Any surprising absentees?
The stand-out omission is pacey Lezignan full-back Damien Cardace, who scored four tries on his Super League debut for Catalans way back in 2012. Although he picked up an injury in Lezignan’s defeat to Limoux last week, he hadn’t been included in the squad list before then.
The French Elite Championship’s leading scorer, Clement Herrero, has been a key part of Carcassonne’s march to the top of the league, but the 24-year-old is also absent.
The likes of Cesar Rouge, Corentin Le Cam and Lambert Belmas will no doubt get their chance to impress not only France national coach Frayssinous, but Dragons coach Steve McNamara by playing for Catalans.
You can watch the game between Catalans Dragons and the French Selection live on YouTube, on Saturday March 6 (2pm UK). Click here to access.