Written by Zack Wilson
Photo by Abdelkader Benteguie
Toulouse Olympique may not receive much coverage in the UK or Australian rugby league press, but they have been quietly going about some serious business in the close season.
The French outfit have retained much of the talent that saw them into the Middle Eights last season, and have strengthened the line-up with some shrewd acquisitions.
Players like Paul Marcon, Chris Centrone and Bastien Ader will be donning Olympique’s blue jersey again this year.
They have acquired Scotland international James Bell from the New Zealand Warriors. The Maori-Scot is a powerful loose forward who had an outstanding game for the Bravehearts against France in the European Championship.
Welsh international forward Ben Evans also arrived at the club after helping London Broncos to reach Super League last season.
It is also worth noting that most of the first-choice XIII is French, something which is important to the future of the sport.
Another French addition to the squad in the close season is Jordan Dezaria, who has returned to France after a period with Leigh Centurions. He came through the youth system at Catalans Dragons originally.
Even the Australians in the side, like dynamic back rower Rhys Curran, are now French, with Curran having played for the French national team in the European Championship, after qualifying on residency.
We desperately need to boost our pool of professional players, as well as players who can compete effectively on the international stage, and Toulouse are definitely contributing to that, whilst also managing to look after their own interests.
Coach Sylvain Houles is another asset that the club have managed to retain.
The Frenchman is determined to get things right this season, and build a side that is capable of reaching Super League and staying there.
“Like every year, I will see the players one by one, and we will talk about their role, the points on which they must progress etc,” he said, just before Christmas.
“These interviews will serve to set individual goals.
“Collectively, of course we are going to talk about Super League, but the important thing is that we’re not there.
“I prefer us to focus on all the work of the off season, to be ready from the first day and then sequencing the matches one after the other, to stay at the top level week after week.
“The place we will finish will be defined according to the work we put in.”
For the long term health of rugby league, it is essential that we have another French side in Super League.
Toulouse are putting the building blocks in place to get there, and stay there for many years to come.