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ESL newcomers Les Catalans are poised to become European heavyweights as their playing roster for next year continues to grow. With the experienced league mind David Waite serving as director of football, Catalan has signed four NRL quality players and has been rumoured to be courting three others. Whilst Catalan administrators have stated that they only intend to include 8 foreign players on their 2006 roster, it is obvious that they are willing to spend up big in order to ensure these imports are of the highest quality.
The French club made their intentions known when they announced the prized signing of Stacey Jones. Since then, they have continued to strengthen their squad with the signing of Canberra?s Ian Hindmarsh, West?s John Wilson, and this week?s acquisition of Newcastle?s Mark Hughes. In addition, Catalan has been linked to forwards Alex Chan and Awen Guttenbeil, as well as former Origin three quarter Chris Walker. Canberra?s Matt Adamson has also joined the staff as the teams strength and conditioning coach. Undoubtedly, for Australian players and coaching staff, the prospect of playing in the warm and exotic environs of southern France will continue to make Catalan a tempting prospect.
An advantage which Catalan enjoys in establishing a quality ESL team for next year is that they already have a successful feeder team in the UTC. This team has five current French internationals and five former NRL players in their lineup, including Sean Rudder, Chris Beattie and Matt Bickerstaff. Catalan will surely use the local talent that they have in UTC, and with the promise of professional contracts, will undeniably be able to coax more locals of international standard from other French teams.
In addition to the prospect of acquiring players of a high standard, Les Catalans have also presented the RFL with a solid business plan. The team has the support of local government, and has also secured substantial corporate backing. Most importantly, considering the demise of Paris St Germain, Les Catalans know on what side their bread is buttered, with plans in place to decrease the number of imports from 8 to 6 by 2008.
It seems that 2005 could be a watershed year for French Rugby League. Catalans introduction into Superleague coincides with Toulousse?s recent Challenge Cup success, and the French Rugby League?s appointment of John Monie as national coach until 2008. It has been suggested that France could eventually be included in an expanded Tri-Nations series, and if so it may only be a short period of time before France becomes a genuinely competitive force within Rugby League.
Possible Catalan Team
R. Guigue* C. Walker** M. Hughes J. Wilson T. Bosc L. Frayssinous* S. Jones C. Beattie D. Berthezene* A. Chan** A. Guttenbeil** I. Hindmarsh J. Fakir*
* Current French International ** Rumoured signings