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John Wells: Super League Big Changes Tour Part One – Catalan Dragons and Toulouse Olympics | Rugby League News


Toulouse is set to enter the Super League in 2022

In the first of a four-episode series, Sky Sports rugby league expert John Wells looks at the changes that have taken place across the Super League before the new season, starting with two French clubs competing …

With all the players reporting for the start of the pre-season at their clubs before Super League XXVII, I feel that there has been a lot more activity in terms of staff mobility – on and off the field – than ever before. Remember dice have rolled more, more gambling, more new pages seem to have been turned.

This level of change affects culture, direction, and – as club officials would expect – a pre-season fate that results in it having a really fresh and vibrant feeling. The question is: why? Why such a big change and why so far-reaching? What events underpin such an earthquake change across the league?

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Okay, just two things happened this season that provided a huge catalyst for change for me; Some of which will be played as fine-tuning, others inevitably, and can be described as anything other than a start-over.

First, the Catalan Dragons have shown everyone that winning their Challenge Cup final in 2018, and a play-off semi-final appearance in 2020 by taking the League Leader Shield, losing just four games in the process and playing in the Grand Final in 2021 was no greed. .

It’s a huge shot across the channel and across the bow of many established Super League clubs from a team that, since its permanent start in 2006, has now made its way to the top table of our sport, muscle and elbow. I think it has pushed the action of many club owners.

Second, St. Helens made three in a row, winning against the Dragons in that grand final. They are busy building a dynasty and asking the rest of the Super League clubs a very serious question – basically, who is going to stop us? That too has led to change.

Highlights of the 2021 Super League Grand Final between the Catalan Dragons and St. Helens.

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Highlights of the 2021 Super League Grand Final between the Catalan Dragons and St. Helens.

Highlights of the 2021 Super League Grand Final between the Catalan Dragons and St. Helens.

So, what does that change, that action, look like on the ground? Well, this is significant across several clubs because they want to renew and improve the chances of keeping pace with St. Helens. In my opinion, this is the most significant change in the club, more than at any time in the last decade.

I tell you, before the Super League XXVII take you through the gates of each club and peek into their respective dressing rooms and coaches’ offices to see what I mean. We will unofficially call it the Big Changes Tour, and our journey begins in the south of France.

Catalan Dragon There was a great 2021. Knock on the door of the dressing room of the home of Stad Gilbert Brutus and you’ll immediately notice, once you’ve past the newly-crowned Man of Steel Sam Tomkins, the absence of a main face.

James Maloney is one of the men who has been at the center of the Dragons’ success for the past two years and one who has really helped move the needle for the club since his arrival. He left the left stage to play in the French Elite 1 Championship for the Legionnaires in 2022 – and 230 miles west -.

James Maloney has left the Catalans to play in France's domestic competition

James Maloney has left the Catalans to play in France’s domestic competition

Maloney’s loss, however, was offset by the arrival of Mitchell Pierce from the Newcastle Knights. It’s a cracking signing because Pierce is a wonderful talent and it’s a huge statement of intent to continue from Les Drakes for the upcoming season.

Expect one or two new signings to open the same dressing room door next month or so, but nothing wholesale. The balance of this squad is good and the new species of young French talent has been slowly and successfully drip-fed into a list rich in international talent and experience.

This is an exciting time to be a Dragons fan – and a Super League fan in that regard because, whoever you support, the whole game now has another legitimate top-tier team capable of winning big silver.

To me, this fact is clearly changing other clubs. The change in their actions has forced big changes elsewhere, we will see.

Mitchell Pierce's kicking game is one of the assets that will bring Catalans

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Mitchell Pierce’s kicking game is one of the assets that will bring Catalans

Mitchell Pierce’s kicking game is one of the assets that will bring Catalans

If we then leave the Dragon, and travel along the E80 with the French Pyrenees as our background to our left, you’ll arrive at La Ville Rose and the new member of the Super League club after their promotion in October, Toulouse Olympics.

As we pull over at Sted Ernest-Wallon, we can hold head coach Sylvain Holes in deeper conversation with his chairman, Bernard Sarajin, and there will be plenty of conversations in the coming weeks – and many more already.

The club’s goal in 2022 is simple – not to ride it for 12 months in the Super League and there are two things for Toulouse in 2022 that will help them achieve that goal.

The first is geography, as English-based Super League clubs have yet to solve the travel-preparation puzzle involving moving to the south of France on a busy schedule of weekly round-fixtures, and the second is, at least for the opening season, they will be relatively unknown.

Mark Kheiralla is one of Toulouse's endangered men in 2022

Mark Kheiralla is one of Toulouse’s endangered men in 2022

As much as opposing teams want to see footage of them in preparation, unless you are in front of a player like Jonathan Ford or Mark Kheralla, you can really understand how they move and how they deal with the challenge that the Olympics will create by interacting with their teammates. Goes to understand it properly. The start of their season will have a huge impact on where they end up.

With the exception of one, and before we boarded the plane back to England, it is worth mentioning what a huge change the Toulouse campaign has brought to the look and feel of the Super League.

For starters, their arrival in the top league created two more great derby days to witness in 2022. Toulouse is a big, cosmic city and the draw will be huge for travel fans.

The specific plane we are boarding is at Leeds-Bradford Airport. So, it is understandable that the next team we see is at Headingley Stadium – and we will do that tomorrow.





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