The criteria for IMG’s plan to bring a form of licensing back to Super League is set to be revealed later today (Thursday), and Toulouse will be as keen as anyone to pore over the detail.
The goalposts have almost been constantly moving since Toulouse first expressed their desire to join the competition two decades ago.
They’ve seen Catalans parachuted in back in 2006, after winning a licensing-esque battle against Toulouse, before spending three years in the Championship trying to satisfy the on-field criteria to apply for a Super League licence in 2012.
When that failed, they went back to the French Elite Championship before returning to the RFL pyramid when automatic promotion and relegation was brought back in 2015.
Toulouse worked their way up the leagues, finally reaching Super League in 2022 – but unfortunately for them, were relegated at the first time of asking.
The only way to grow French rugby league
There have been some concerns raised about French clubs in Super League, and it was a specific question asked in the IMG consultation.
In the initial briefings from IMG, it was revealed that there would be an initial limit of two places for French clubs in the league system, raising questions over their future.
Ambitious organisers of the 2025 World Cup in France are eager to develop a full-time competition across the Channel as a legacy for the sport following the tournament.
But despite their turbulent experience, and the disappointment of immediate relegation, Toulouse coach Sylvain Houles says they are still focused on establishing themselves as a top flight club.
Houles said: “It’s hard to look at the long term. Once you reach Super League, it’s now ‘how can we get back there’ and make sure we stay up there.
“With IMG coming into place and probably bringing new things again, with things changing every two or three years, makes it even harder.
“Without a doubt, we believe the only way to grow rugby league in Europe is to have French teams in Super League. The French competition is not as strong yet. It’s hard to one day to have a French Super League competition at the same level. The French rugby league is not played in big towns, so the investment and money is lacking.
“We would like to have full-time teams in France, so that’s why the only way forward is to have a strong European rugby league. But it is tough. We feel on our own and isolated, and it doesn’t make it easy.”
Should promotion and relegation be scrapped altogether?
There were calls on Toulouse’s promotion to Super League to make them exempt from relegation to enable their development.
But although Houles admits he would have loved that opportunity, he understands why.
“I would have loved to. I knew mid-season we wouldn’t, and that’s fair enough. We knew the rules before that. I would have loved it. I know what we can be and I know what we can bring to the European rugby league. It’s a wasted opportunity. But now it’s up to us that we get back up and don’t waste it again, but with everything going on I know that it’s hard.
“The whole thing is so hard with promotion and relegation. It’s so hard to plan things. When you’re in the Championship, you want to be promoted, the uncertainty is always there. And when you finally reach Super League, who have relegation in your mind and knowing that when you go up it is so hard.
“It’s a complex system. Obviously we understand that people probably outside of the clubs involved like the promotion and relegation, but when you’re on the inside it makes it hard. But that’s what it is, that’s what the rule is, so it is what it is.”
Developing French players
The return of licensing, which will still retain an element of promotion and relegation at least in the short-term, could be of benefit to Toulouse. If clubs earn a category A licence, they are guaranteed a Super League spot and will therefore be exempt from relegation.
The exact detail of what it will take to reach category A is eagerly awaited.
One requirement of Catalans and Toulouse expected to be confirmed by IMG is around the development of French players. There is set to be a requirement for them to field a minimum number of French players in their match day squads.
Houles is happy with that, and says being in the Championship is the best place for that to happen.
“What I could read between the lines is that we’re probably going to need a certain quota of French players on the field every week, which I really like. It should be like that. And if that is true, we need to start the process now and that’s why I want to try and get the best French players to sign for us to make sure we have time to develop them, and the Championship is the best way for us to do that.
“There is less pressure on us this season. We are coming down from Super League, so everyone will want to beat us and we expect that. For me, we need to know what’s going to be the criteria from IMG, because that’s going to be the important one.”
Clubs are meeting with IMG in Huddersfield today where they will find out specifics about the criteria required of them, ahead of its introduction for the 2025 season.