Catalans Dragons full-back Sam Tomkins insists it is ‘massive’ for rugby league in France that there will be two French teams in Super League this year.
The Dragons start their Super League campaign with a rematch of last year’s Grand Final. Steve McNamara’s side travel to champions St Helens in the opening fixture on Thursday night.
Tomkins will also be keeping a close eye on France’s second Super League club Toulouse. They play their first-ever top flight match against Huddersfield at the Stade Ernest Wallon on Saturday night.
He said: “It’s massive for French rugby league and it’s massive for us as Catalans Dragons.
“We’ll have a rival for the first time ever, so it’s exciting.
“I was involved in the biggest rivalry in Wigan-Saints for many, many years and I’m desperate for Toulouse to stay in Super League so it can become a real fixture.
“The longer they can stay there, the more our rivalry will grow. I’m just praying they’re successful.”
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Catalans built on from their Challenge Cup success in 2018 last season. They clinched the League Leaders’ Shield for the first time and reached a maiden Grand Final.
The Dragons fell short to a 12-10 defeat at Old Trafford, but Tomkins believes the club have all the ingredients to go one better in 2022.
He said: “The little bit of success we had last year breeds expectation.
“The club has gained more sponsorship than ever before and we will have a lot more eyes on us this year so we know there’s a bit more pressure.
“Saints are still the team to beat. They’ve been the benchmark for three years now and they will be strong again I’m sure – but we know they’re not unbeatable.”
Sam Tomkins on Mitchell Pearce: He’s a special kind of player
The Dragons lost legendary half-back James Maloney at the end of last season. The Australian opted to retire from the full-time professional game and is now playing part-time for Lezignan in the French Elite 1 Championship.
However, Catalans have signed former State of Origin half-back Mitchell Pearce as Maloney’s replacement – and Tomkins has backed Pearce to hit the ground running.
Tomkins said: “He’s a real talented bloke. It’s clear in training that he’s a special kind of player.
“We’ve signed a younger version of Jimmy. It was important. As a club we couldn’t just rely on trying to promote from within, it was important we got a big name in for a couple of years.
“Mitch is just as accomplished as Jimmy, but he’s a different kind of player and we might be playing a little bit differently with him in our team which is really exciting.”