Catalan Dragons are the best expansion rugby league club to have graced the northern hemisphere.
They have provided fans with a fantastic holiday, the hospitality from the Catalonian people is second to none, and the memories of the city of Perpignan will last forever for those who make the pilgrimage.
But Catalan were controversially admitted into Super League at the expense of an existing club. In the season of 2005, two clubs were set to be relegated to allow room for Catalan to be admitted.
That club would turn out to be Widnes, who finished 11th in 2005. With the memories of the failed Paris St Germain club still lingering in the back of supporters’ and critics’ minds, the new Catalan team were subject to heavy criticism before they even kicked off.
But the new club had recruited well. They had secured the services of Stacey Jones, a New Zealand legend in his own right. They also brought on board Ian Hindmarsh from Canberra and Newcastle’s Mark Hughes. Former Warrington and Wigan prop Jerome Guisset jumped at the chance to play for the new French club, as a French born international despite being raised in Australia.
Former Great Britain coach David Waite was employed to help behind the scenes while coach Steve Deakin took charge of the squad.
However with just seven weeks until the opening night against Wigan, Deakin was sacked by chairman Bernard Guasch. Catalan were still searching for a coach as the first game of the season approached, so Waite stepped up to fulfil the role temporarily.
Over 11,000 filled the Stade Aime Giral to watch Catalan come from behind to win 38-30 over Wigan. Julian Rinaldi’s try three minutes from time secured the win for the Dragons despite Wigan leading 30-26 with ten minutes to go after Pat Richards touched down for the Warriors.
The Sky cameras were in attendance to capture the game, as the whole sport focused on the south of France for a game that didn’t disappoint.
Stacey Jones, who had been named captain in the weeks before the match, was awarded the man of the match as he steered Catalan to the famous win.
Hughes, Laurent Frayssinous, Djamel Fakir, Renaud Guigue, Justin Murphy, Hindmarsh all scored before Rinaldi, with Frayssinous kicking five crucial goals.
Wigan replaied with Brett Dallas, Iafeta Palea’aesina, Dennis Moran, Jerry Seuseu added to Richards’ try while Danny Tickle also converted five goals.