Million Pound Game to Grand Final: The super turnaround of Catalans Dragons

Drew Darbyshire
Steve McNamara Catalans

It has been a remarkable change in fortunes for Catalans Dragons in the last five years.

The French club were threatened with the prospect of relegation from Super League in 2017. However, Steve McNamara’s side scored 22 unanswered points in the Million Pound Game against Leigh to secure a 26-10 win, and more importantly, their Super League status.

The following season, Catalans picked up their first-ever piece of major silverware as they beat Warrington in the Challenge Cup final at Wembley.

Since then, it has been an upwards trajectory for Les Dracs. They clinched the League Leaders’ Shield last season and reached the Super League Grand Final at Old Trafford. They fell short to experienced supremos St Helens at Old Trafford, but it marked a magnificent turnaround for the club.

Reflecting back on Catalans’ turnaround to Love Rugby League before the Grand Final in October, McNamara said: “That Million Pound atmosphere was strangling and suffocating – it was horrible. It was the worst feeling you can get.

“Looking at where we’ve come from and where we are currently at, it is through a lot of hard work. It is through a lot of people over a clear period delivering a very consistent message to a group. That has enabled us to get here so we are proud.”

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A shift in attitude

Catalans Dragons reached the Grand Final last season

After they avoided relegation, McNamara and his coaching staff made a few changes off the field to make it a winning environment.

He continued: “It was about creating the right performance environment to enable the team to be the best it can be and probably for a team to gain trust in each other on a consistent basis.

“To do that, you have to do lots of things right for a long period of time. The challenge was that Catalan is a very volatile region. People get on extreme highs when you win and extreme lows when you lose. We had to iron some of that out and be humble when we won, we had not to be devastated when we lost. We had to keep training well.”

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Installing a winning culture

Sam Tomkins in action for Catalans

Sam Tomkins was named Steve Prescott Man of Steel in 2021

Catalans used to have a reputation of being the ‘home’ for overseas players who wanted to retire at the club for one last payday, or because it was good holiday destination, with rugby taking a backseat.

But not now. Rugby now comes first at the club.

McNamara said: “I understand that perception. I think some of that was reality. Players were going there because it was a great place to live and they were working second.

“You’ve got to go there because you want to work extremely hard and be the best you can be at rugby league. If you do that and then you can enjoy the part of the world we live in.

“People like Sam Tomkins and Micky McIlorum set the example to these young French players, saying ‘this is how you train’, ‘this is how you play’, ‘this is what you do’. We create that environment for them and the young boys then see that.

“When Sam and Micky goes, they will take on that mantle and pass that onto the next generation. It is really exciting what is happening but we’ve got to keep working hard to make sure that carries on. Ultimately, we are 16 years old as a club. We are very, very young.”

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McNamara paid tribute to the domestic game in France; the Elite 1 and Elite 2 Championships have flourished in recent years.

He finished by saying: “It is growing. I think it went through a real stagnant period. There is a lot of people in France who have thought very hard to keep the game alive through the Vichy government through the war.

“It is a reward for a lot of people at grassroots level who have worked really hard to keep those clubs going to produce some players. There is a lot of hard work going on and there is some momentum there now so we have got to keep up that momentum.”

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