SEASON PREVIEW: CATALANS DRAGONS Kev Pender 22nd January 2019 2019 Season, 2019 Season Previews Catalans Dragons Season Preview Ahead of the 2019 season we have contacted fans from our Super League opponents, to help to give us a steer on how they see the season going for their team. Next up are the Challenge Cup holders, Catalans Dragons. We have John Newman and Denise Lawrence, both Catalans Dragons fans, answering our questions – our thanks to them for their time and also our thanks to Catalans Media for assisting us in our search for fans to help us out. Tell us a little about yourself… I’m John from Dewsbury, I’ve supported Catalan since 2007 after my family tried to persuade me to support Bradford Bulls as they all support them! Denise Lawrence, 50-something, work in Property Management, stay away from social media for my sanity. Born and bred in Wigan, been visiting south-west France for 25 years, decided to move out here a couple of years ago. Total Catalans fan home and (sometimes) away, Guasch Stand screamer! After a shaky start last year, the Dragons got stronger to finish 7th. Can you sum up last season as a Catalans fan? (Were you happy, frustrated, disappointed etc. and why) JN: Our season had a really shaky start. Losing to Hull KR away was a bad moment in 2018, also losing Luke Walsh and Paul Aiton didn’t help, but we reached our lowest when we slumped to a 41-0 defeat to Castleford. After that I heard rumblings about Thomas Bosc being forced out of retirement, but came out we signed Drinkwater, who I think was our best player last season – its a real shame we didn’t get him signed up for longer. We finished pretty strong in the season securing top 8 and focussing on the Challenge Cup which was the highlight of my year. I attended quarter final, semi final but unfortunately couldn’t attended the final. DL: The ultimate rollercoaster season. Worst start ever in Super League, two wins from nine, then we sign Josh Drinkwater, Tony Gigot returns from his ban and all of a sudden we’re top eight and winning at Wembley. Career-ending injuries to Luke Walsh, Paul Aiton and other key players hurt or suspended killed us in the first half of the season. But Steve McNamara said he’d turn it around and he did. Winning the Challenge Cup was worth all of that early pain. So I was frustrated and worried at the start of the season, happy and hopeful at the end. The Challenge Cup win is arguably one of the best things to happen to rugby league in Europe. It has led to a game at the Nou Camp against Wigan which can only raise the profile of rugby league in Catalonia. How can else Catalans build on this success? DL: Nou Camp will be the biggest opportunity for Rugby League to promote itself in decades, it’s massive. It’s virtually guaranteed to beat the all-time Super League attendance figure and I can’t wait to go. Anything that gets people talking about Rugby League in this part of the world is a good thing. And since the cup win there has been more interest in the game at junior level. It’s been a massive boost for French Rugby League. The RFL had asked for a bond to be paid to protect themselves against losses should Catalans Dragons make it to the final again. Bernard Guasch had released a statement confirming Catalans won’t pay this. What are your thoughts on the debacle? JN: I think it’s bad the RFL even asked for the 550k from Bernard Guasch and I’ll leave it there for now! DL: The bond issue has been sorted now with a “compromise” whatever that means. It’s a disgrace that the cup winners are being asked to pay to defend their trophy. All of the good PR work was in danger of being undone by such a stupid decision. If the RFL is short of money, don’t blame us. I see they’ve got a new sponsor now which is good news, maybe they won’t need a handout from clubs! The Dragons hae added Sam Tomkins, Matty Smith and Matt Whitely in the off season but lost Josh Drinkwater – are you happy with your recruitment (both in and out)? Is there any other position you would look to strengthen? JN: I think we have recruited well helps. It having Gigot from the start of the season. I’ve been watching training session Matty Smith and Sam Tomkins are bonding well together work McNamaras style of play. DL: More than happy with Smith and Tomkins at Catalans, they are great players and will bring so much to the side. Josh is a great player and will do well for Hull KR but I think the McIlorum, Tomkins, Smith triangle will be devastating this year. We need another winger since Fouad Yaha left and I think the club are looking for one right now. Who should we be looking out for in a Catalans shirt this year (and why)? DL: You should be looking out for David Mead because he’ll be getting quality service this year. He doesn’t get the credit he deserves sometimes. He works so hard for the team, he’s tough in defence, fast on attack. All he needs is the ball in the right place and he’ll score. Which of your young players is most likely to break into the first team this year? JN: I think people should be watching out for Mickael Goudemand, he’s young and already has a challenge cup medal. DL: Mickael Goudemand was on the fringe least year and he was fantastic. I think we’ll be seeing a lot more of him this year he is a real prospect. The Super 8’s have gone and the top 4 play offs have been replaced with the top 5, theoretically giving the top place team a better chance of reaching the Grand Final – are you in favour of the changes? DL: Yes, I prefer the new system (which was the old system, I think). It was hitting season-ticket sales because nobody knew where they’d be playing at the end of the season. The middle eights created some excitement but it was all over at the top of the table weeks before the season ended. Some clubs, like Hull, just gave up. How do you think the Dragons will go in 2019? (Where will they finish, Cup run etc) JN: I don’t see why Catalans can’t challenge for top 5. We showed against St Helens we can beat the best of the best and Leeds away 2018 showed me we can get some results away from home. DL: I think the Dragons will finish second and go on to win the Grand Final. They have got every chance to defend the cup but it’s hard to predict how far they will get because I think Steve McNamara will focus on league success this season. How do you think the Saints will go in 2019? (Where will they finish, Cup run etc) Which player are you most worried about when we face each other? JN: I fear Lachlan Coote the most from Saints because I watched him play for the Cowboys, and he’s fast and can replace what you lost when Ben Barba left. I think top 3 for Saints and maybe Old Trafford. DL: I think St Helens will finish fourth. Warrington, Catalans and Wigan have all recruited better than St Helens (sorry!) and they will all be stronger than Saints. You’re due a cup run, so maybe you’ll get to Wembley – just try and avoid us in the semi! Predictions: JN: Top 5: St Helens Castleford Wigan Warrington Catalan Dragons Grand Final: Saints vs Warrington Champions: I think St Helens will win the Grand Final Challenge Cup: Catalan Dragons Man of Steel: Lachlan Coote DL: Top 5: Wigan, Catalans, Warrington, St Helens, Castleford. Grand Final: Warrington v Catalans. Champions: Catalans. Challenge Cup Winners: Warrington. Man Of Steel: Sam Tomkins.