Toulouse’s brief stay in Super League may go down in history as a missed opportunity.
Relegated at the first attempt, Sylvain Houles side will try again to get out of the Championship and back to the promised land and join countrymen Catalans Dragons and have a second go. They may well get a chance in 2025 via the grading system regardless.
With the World Cup heading to France in 2025, it’s critical that the host nation is competitive – and their 64-0 humbling at the hands of England last weekend isn’t a good sign.
There were calls throughout the 2022 season to make Toulouse exempt from relegation and protect their place in Super League, in a similar way to what was afforded to the Dragons when they joined the competition in 2006.
But those calls were resisted, and eventually Toulouse finished bottom of the table and went straight back down, within a year of earning promotion via the Championship Grand Final.
They never really recovered from a blow on the eve of the season that saw them lose two of the cornerstones of their side in Mark Kheirallah and Johnathon Ford, and despite a mid-season flurry that threatened an unlikely survival bid, Wakefield and a surprisingly sluggish Warrington managed to navigate to safety and send the French side down.
Writing in his regular column in The Mirror, former England captain Jamie Peacock said: “It was a good run for some of Shaun Wane’s younger players but a 64-0 scoreline says plenty about what France need to do.
“If we’d have managed to keep Toulouse in Super League that would have really helped them, having two top-flight teams.
“That’s what they need. And maybe even to get to three. That’s how we can grow and strengthen the game in France.
“Watching Toulouse drop out last year was, in my view, sad for the international game as it hinders France’s chances of being more competitive.”
Building on the success of Catalans
Catalans have been a successful addition to Super League since they won a licensing style battle with Toulouse to earn a place for the 2006 season, with their place accommodate by relegated two teams at the end of the 2005 campaign.
Toulouse didn’t give up on their dream though, and first entered the RFL pyramid in 2009 in an attempt to earn a Super League licence, but they struggled to compete and withdrew at the end of 2011.
But five years later they were back, this time in the third tier, and they earned their way through the leagues the hard way to finally get to Super League.
Calls for a second French team aren’t new. Back in 2016, I wrote that a second team desperately needed to follow the Dragons to help achieve the aim of improving the France national team.
“It’s got to the stage now where the Dragons have to protect their own interests, and they can’t be forced to carry the flag for the French national team for much longer…
“What is for sure is that it’s got to the stage now where not only the Dragons can fly the French flag in Super League if it is truly going to remain a European competition.”
IMG’s recent re-imagining rugby league proposals appear to restrict the inclusion of French teams to just two, with worries that their presence simply hasn’t added to the central pool of commercial and broadcast revenue.
The argument is that the chances of that increases with two teams, but until proof is provided, the English clubs will remain sceptical.
Who would a second or third French team be?
Beyond Toulouse, it is hard to see if any other clubs are resourceful enough to make the jump to full-time.
Both Carcassonne and Lezignan are regulars at the top of the French Elite Championship, but both would baulk at the costs associated with participating within the RFL pyramid.
One suggestion could be to create a new, combined franchise specifically for Super League – and we’ve had a taste of this, with Catalans taking on the so-called Chevaliers Cathares line-up, made up of players from Carcassonne, Limoux and Lezignan.
A collaborative club could be created, perhaps even led by the French Federation, which draws players from multiple clubs, who then act as feeders, and then exposes more areas of France to live Super League action.
That may well be a pipe dream. But beyond the World Cup, more efforts need to be made to align the French Championship with its English equivalent.