Having transformed Catalans Dragons from a side involved in a relegation shoot-out to a consistent top four team, Steve McNamara insists the future of French rugby league is bright despite tasting Grand Final defeat.
The Dragons’ 10-2 loss to the Cherry and Whites was their second failed attempt at Old Trafford glory in the space of two years, also beaten in the 2021 showpiece by St Helens.
Accordingly, six-and-a-half years after arriving in Perpignan, McNamara’s only silverware in the cabinet is a Challenge Cup earned in 2018 and the League Leaders’ Shield from 2021.
Given where the club was at when he first took over though, his words post-match at the Theatre of Dreams are more than understandable. He inherited a side who had lost 12 of their first 18 games in that 2017 campaign, and guided them to survival by the skin of their teeth with a win in the Million Pound Game at Leigh against the odds.
The former England coach then led the Dragons to their first silverware with that Challenge Cup triumph a year later against Warrington Wolves at Wembley, and has now established the French outfit as one of Super League’s top dogs, finishing in the top four in each of the last four years.
Catalans Dragons boss Steve McNamara: ‘The expectation is to win these things’
The Perpignan outfit have grown both on and off the pitch during McNamara’s tenure, seeing crowds at the Stade Gilbert Brutus increase and establishing a pathway for homegrown talent rather than having to constantly poach players to move across the channel.
Adamant they’re on the right track, the head coach said post-match: “The DNA of the club has to be what you saw tonight. A team that refused to give in, refused to stop, refused to buckle.
“We have to – as a club – continue in that vein, and if we do then that will put us in strong positions in the future.
“The players who are staying are involved in that, the staff, the young players who are watching and trying to develop, and the players we bring in from outside of our organisation have to fit that.
“The future looks bright, and I’m confident we’ll get more chances and opportunities like tonight.
“That’s the level of where we’re at as a club now, the expectation is to win these things, not just compete. Our expectation is to be in them and win.”
‘Pride’ the buzzword for Dragons chief despite heartbreak in Grand Final
Having lost out to Saints by two points in a 12-10 defeat at Old Trafford two years ago, Catalans this time went down to a single Liam Marshall try, scored during their second 10-minute stint down to 12 men courtesy of Tom Davies’ yellow card from referee Liam Moore for a professional foul.
Wigan-bound Adam Keighran – who has today been hit with a one-match ban for his actions – was sin-binned in the first half for a tip tackle on Kai Pearce-Paul, sapping the energy out of the pack having to defend against a potent Warriors attack.
And having come so close to glory once more, McNamara remained proud of his side’s achievements in 2023, saying: “I’m proud of every single one of them. From day one of pre-season, all I’ve asked them to do is be the best that they can be every single day.
“You can’t be better than your best. The boys came in on the back of a World Cup year for a lot of the French players, we started pre-season with seven players and worked our way through the start of the season with some horrific injuries.
“To do everything that we have to do and contend with throughout the season, then get to a Grand Final and get beat when you only concede one try, a try we could have prevented, I am extremely proud of every single person involved in our whole organisation.”