Toulouse are suffering “untold damage” as a result of relegation from Super League according to coach Sylvain Houles.
A string of players have left the club, including player of the season Chris Hankinson who has signed for Featherstone Rovers. Corey Norman has departed to Lezignan and Nathan Peats returned to Huddersfield.
In his first interview since agreeing to hold onto the reins at Stade Ernest Wallon, Houles told Love Rugby League how he almost walked away from the club following the devastation of relegation in his first attempt at coaching in the top-flight.
But his love for the club, some persistence from the owner and Chief Executive added to positivity provided by RFL strategic partner IMG and the prospect of a World Cup in his home country made him sign on for a tenth season in charge of the Olympians.
He said: “I needed a little bit of time, I’ve been at the club for nine years, from Elite One to Super League and back to the championship so I had to be sure that this wasn’t the end of the cycle for me.
“I had to consider whether the club needed a fresh approach to begin a new era. But my chairman Bernard (Sarrazain) and CEO Cedric (Garcia) managed to convince me that it was right to stay.
“We’ve been together for a long time and we know the club inside out and we’ve had lengthy talks about what is needed to start again from scratch. I don’t want to let anyone down and that’s why I’m going to go again.”
The financial impact of relegation to the championship means Houles will have to do without his assistant coach Rémi Casty who has left the club plus a host of senior players who have already departed or are on the verge of signing for other teams.
But the 41-year-old former Toulouse player is ready to roll his sleeves up and rebuild for the club’s return to the second tier and the challenge of seeking instant promotion in 2023.
He said: “Unfortunately, that is the effect of promotion and relegation, you sustain damage when you go down and you lose players and staff.”
The loss of Hankinson to next year’s championship rivals Rovers was a heavy blow for Houles, coming swiftly on the back of losing his assistant Casty.
Houles added: “I’ve known Remi as a player and coach and he did really well for us last season, and he is a huge talent who won’t be lost to the game, he has a great future ahead of him.
“We have been relegated and some players have left the club we need to bring in a lot of new faces. There will be a huge turnover here before the start of next year in the championship.
“Obviously the World Cup in England gives coaches an opportunity to look at new recruits, so we will be watching all of the games very closely, but at the same time we will be bringing up some youth and reserve players too.”
IMG boost for Toulouse
Towards the end of this year’s Super League season Houles was very vocal in his request for clarity from the game’s leaders about the inclusion of French clubs in the UK-based game and he is relieved that IMG’s “reimagining” of the sport has included overseas sides.
He added: “It was another factor in my decision-making, you can see that the French teams in Perpignan and Toulouse are in the plan and we’re just waiting on the criteria we need to fulfil. We need to know if we will be a Category A or B team and also what the number of French players will need to be in our team-sheets every week.
“It’s something I’m a big fan of, increasing the number of homegrown players at the club. And if we have the security of knowing we will remain in Super League (as long as we reach the criteria) it is something we will be able to do.
“The effect of not being relegated will have an instant impact upon our ability to bring through young French players.
“We’re not happy at all at being relegated from Super League, and nothing will change that, but there is plenty to look forward to in French Rugby League with the next World Cup being held here in 2025 and the appointment of French Federation chief Luc Lacoste to the vice-presidency of the International Rugby League organisation.
“Alongside the IMG announcements there is a lot for us to be positive about but there is a lot of hard work to be done before the benefits are felt.
“Being relegated hit us all hard physically and mentally at the club so it won’t be easy to brush the effects off but we start right now and with a fresh approach, a new leadership group with a high energy aiming to get back into the top flight in the run up to 2025.”