Toulouse Olympique boss on Kheirallah’s absence and Ford replacement

Mark Kheirallah Toulouse Olympique

Photo: Manuel Blondeau / SWpix

Toulouse Olympique full-back Mark Kheirallah is available but has not been selected for Saturday’s opening Super League match against Huddersfield, the French club have confirmed.

Kheirallah looked set to follow captain Johnathan Ford out of the club after failing to adhere to French government regulations which insist that all players should be double-vaccinated against Covid-19.

Toulouse coach Sylvain Houles said at the launch of Super League a week ago that he did not expect the 31-year-old Australia-born French Test full-back to play for the club again. However, the player hinted on social media this week that he was back in the game after recovering from Covid in early January.

Toulouse chief executive Cedric Garcia confirmed to the PA news agency that Kheirallah remains under contract and is currently training with the team.

“Clearly what happened in January left some mark inside the club and for now he’s not selected by the coach,” said Garcia. “I don’t know how it will end but for now he’s not selected by the coach.”

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Toulouse Olympique squad update ahead of opener

Houles told a news conference that former Wigan forward Harrison Hansen will also sit out Saturday’s opener. He sustained a broken nose and a shoulder injury in Toulouse’s pre-season friendly against Catalans.

Test centre Mathieu Jussaume will be out for eight to 10 weeks after breaking a leg in that match. Winger Latrell Schaumkel is set to miss the opening three matches through injury.

It means Toulouse will be without seven members of the team that beat Featherstone 34-12 in October’s Million Pound Game. Houles will give debuts to new signings Chris Hankinson, Matty Russell and James Cunningham.

Huddersfield squad impacted by vaccination rules

Huddersfield also have the French vaccination-passport regulation to consider, with as many as seven players thought to be affected.

England winger Jermaine McGillvary, centre Ricky Leutele and club captain Michael Lawrence are among those missing from coach Ian Watson’s 21-man squad.

Toulouse have been boosted by a relaxation of the 5,000 crowd limit. But lingering restrictions in France are likely to keep the attendance for Saturday’s inaugural Super League game below 10,000.

However, Garcia is confident the club can reach that target for their next home game against Warrington 10 days later.

“The rules are slowly being lifted but not as fast as in the UK,” Garcia said.

Meanwhile, Garcia says the club have had no joy in their search for a replacement for stand-off Ford.

“We are looking everywhere, in France, in the UK and in Australia. But for now there are no serious leads,” he said.

“It’s the worst time because all players are contracted and the seasons haven’t started so they’re not ready to move.”

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