If the Betfred Super League is to crown brand new champions in 2024, it would be a fair bet to suggest that the Catalans Dragons will be the team to break the stranglehold of the traditional powerhouses.
Twenty years on from Leeds’ first Super League title, the European game is yet to add to the Rhinos, Wigan Warriors, St Helens and Bradford Bulls on its list of clubs to earn the ultimate prize. But Steve McNamara’s Dragons have come as close as anyone in recent seasons, following their 2018 Challenge Cup triumph with Grand Final appearances in 2021 and 2023.
Yet, just as they were edged out 12-10 by St Helens in the first of those two Old Trafford visits, last year’s showpiece saw Catalans fail to deliver their best rugby as they went down 10-2 in a forgettable final against Wigan.
But full-back Arthur Mourgue is determined that his side will be better for the experiences of their two Grand Final defeats when it comes to the 2024 season.
“I think we have more determination than any other year because we know what it takes to get to the Grand Final, all the sacrifices we made, and every player who played in that final wants to take the trophy back home for the fans, for the club, and that’s what we want this year,” the young Frenchman tells Betfred.
“I really believe that [we belong at the top now]. Steve and the staff have really taken this club to the top level, our standards over the last few years have really gone up and all the players are so professional now, so talented. If we look at the past seasons we can say that we are along with the top teams. We want to keep doing it this year and go back to semi-finals and finals.”
And Mourgue believes that an injection of new stars including the likes of Tariq Sims, Theo Fages, Jayden Nikorima, Bayley Sironen and their recent loan addition of Hull KR’s Jordan Abdull could help them to break new ground in the coming months despite the loss of the retiring Sam Tomkins and Mitchell Pearce among others.
“It’s going to be a bit different. We have new players, we have new connections, and we want also to improve,” he adds. “We know what we did wrong last year, so there are going to be some modifications but we have the same identity, we are the same tough team to play against, and it will be the same standards.”
One of the new boys, former St Helens and Huddersfield Giants half-back Fages, is revelling in the opportunity to finally play for his local club after leaving the city of Perpignan to join Salford Red Devils’ youth system at the age of 16.
“It’s good to be home, and I’m proud to be representing my hometown club,” the 29-year-old tells Betfred. “I left early to go to England, to chase my dream, and it’s always been at the back of my head to come back home and be playing in front of my family and friends every weekend. It’s where I’m from, and I’m proud to be there now.”
Fages won two Grand Finals and a Challenge Cup with St Helens, and he knows that his experience on the big occasions was one of the reasons he was brought on board by the Dragons as they look to finally win a Super League title.
“There’s a good group there, they’ve been at the top of the table for the last few years now, and they already won the [Challenge] Cup a few years ago, [the Super League] is the last trophy they need. That’s the aim for the next few years, but we’ve got a good group and we’re capable of doing it. Sometimes it takes a bit of a loss to go again.”
The Dragons get their 2024 campaign underway with a home fixture against Warrington Wolves on Saturday, February 17 with a 18:30 kick-off.
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