Written by John Davidson
Photo by Photo Getty Images
Catalans Dragons captain Remy Casty says he is relieved his club will be allowed to defend the Challenge Cup after an agreement was reached for Catalans to participate in the tournament.
Originally the Dragons were to be excluded from the Challenge Cup in 2019, after the RFL demanded they stump up a bond believed to be worth half a million pounds and Catalans refused. But after widespread fan outrage and protracted negotiations with the governing body, the French outfit has sensibly been allowed back into the competition.
Catalans made history in 2018 when they beat Warrington at Wembley and became the first non-English team to lift the Cup.
“As a player you don’t know what can happen,” Casty admitted to Everything Rugby League.
“We want to defend our trophy and it is a relief when we know we will play again [in the competition]. It is very exciting for all the players. We’re happy to have won the Cup last year and we’re very excited to try and keep the trophy at home.”
This season hopes are high in Perpignan with the arrival of Sam Tomkins and Matty Smith, both grand final winners and England internationals, along with talented young forward Matt Whitley from Widnes. That trio, combined with French contingent Casty, Tony Gigot, Benjamin Garcia, Julian Bousquet and Benjamin Julien, as well as Antipodeans David Mead, Sam Moa, Kenny Edwards and Greg Bird, gives the Dragons a formidable line-up.
Catalans have never reached a grand final at Old Trafford, but this year there is genuine expectation that they can be real title contenders.
“We are very excited, as a group of players, the staff at the club, the fans,” the prop said.
“Everyone is very excited about this season, but it can’t happen again if you don’t work hard. Last year we started very, very slowly and poorly. We worked hard and trained hard to come back and win the Challenge Cup.
“Now we are glad to try to keep hold of the Challenge Cup and we have to improve. We finished seventh in Super League [last year], and we want to be in the top five this season.”
The new Super League season also has special meaning for the Dragons as they will take on Wigan, the defending champions, at the home of Barcelona FC the Nou Camp on May 18.
The Nou Camp is Europe’s biggest stadium with a capacity of 99,354. It will be only the second time that a Super League game has been played in Spain.
Casty is enthused by moving a game to Barcelona and is hoping the special event can attract up to 40,000 fans, more than four times their average home attendance at the Stade Gilbert Brutus.
“It means a lot,” the front-rower said.
“It’s a real stadium, a lot of history. As a Catalans player and as a Frenchman, everyone’s talking about the Nou Camp. It will be a great day for us and for French rugby league and for Super League too. I hope it will be a lot of fun.
“We’re expecting around 30,000 to 40,000 people, it should be a great day. And the following week we will be playing at Anfield with the Magic Weekend. It’s unbelievable. When I grew up you couldn’t imagine in one season we’d play at the Camp Nou and then at Anfield.”