IT is Wakefield Trinity Wildcats’ turn for a day in the sun. Their full-back Richard Mathers talks to Dave Craven about the vagaries of the annual trip to face Catalan Dragons in deepest Perpignan.
The old adage about rugby league being an M62 sport lost a little substance following the arrival of Catalan Dragons in 2006.
Admittedly, London Broncos had operated for a time but you could still get there via a motorway of another number.
Catalan’s home of Perpignan is virtually in Spain, a whole different country away which, in itself, brought a whole host of fresh issues for clubs here.
Seven years on, so many sides have returned from the Basque region vanquished, jaded and demoralised.
This weekend, it is the turn of Wakefield Trinity Wildcats to venture southwards and their full-back Richie Mathers admits it is always a challenging prospect.
“I checked the weather in Perpignan on Sunday night – it was 31 degrees at 9.20pm,” he told the Yorkshire Post.
“We’re playing at 4pm on Saturday so the conditions then will be blazing hot.
“Our itinerary sees us fly from Leeds-Bradford Airport to Barcelona – not Perpignan or Girona – so there’s a three-and-a-half bus trip as well.
“You know it’s a tough trip both physically and logistically with the travelling and different climate but also because Catalan are in such good form.
“But all of that’s a ready-made excuse if you lose and I’m really conscious of avoiding that.
“Every side has to go and has to accept it. It’s how we handle it that is the main thing and we’re tough enough as a group to go out there and do that. Personally, I love the trip.”
Any journey to the south of France generally means a truncated week’s training for the English team involved.
Wakefield played at Bradford on Sunday afternoon, going down 34-26, and most of the interim has been spent in slightly different circumstances.
Mathers explained: “You don’t spend as much time working out on the field training for the opposition.
“It’s all about recovery and then the travel.
“We’ve a great conditioning team – Martin Clawson’s been around the game a long time – and this week has been about getting us in shape so we’re not surprised by those conditions in Perpignan.
“There’s things we do differently, like wearing compression garments and getting extra massages, so you are refreshed for the match.”
The former Leeds Rhinos star, currently on a season-long loan from Castleford Tigers, is a big advocate of French rugby in Super League and can see a day when the competition might boast two such clubs.
“Catalan has been a successful franchise and it’s great that the game has spread so well in the south of France,” he said, with their opponents now regularly vying at the top end of the table.
“You know one thing when you go out there – Catalan always give you a physical game.
“They have a big, French forward pack and some great players.
“Credit must got to a fantastic coach in Trent Robinson.
“I’ve been in his company a few times and have a lot of respect for the way he coaches.
“If Catalan can get to the point where the majority of their squad is French – and, importantly, have French players in influential positions – that will be a good time to maybe introduce a second Super League team such as Toulouse.”
In their early days, Catalan did struggle to cope with the demands of winning on the road but that is certainly a thing of the past.
The point was clearly illustrated when the under-performing Dragons somehow managed to muster a 13-10 victory at storm-lashed Hull KR last Friday.
“To grind out a win in east Hull, even though it wasn’t the prettiest and when they’re used to training with a dry ball, on good ground in 30 degrees summer, shows a lot of character,” admitted Mathers, who concedes Trinity themselves could follow that example.
Richard Agar’s side had forged an encouraging three-game winning run before going to Leeds Rhinos and losing 44-40.
They were then outdone by Bradford to further dent their progress but Mathers admits: “We feel in the last two games we didn’t get beaten – we just lost ourselves by the things we did.
“It’s frustrating. Not many teams score 40 points and still lose at Headingley while, no disrespect to Bradford, but a lot of what we did wrong collaborated to that loss.
“We started very lethargically and can’t do that in Perpignan but there were too many errors and missed tackles.
“One thing we are capable of is scoring points. At times we tore Leeds apart and it was the same against Bradford.
“We’re well-structured defensively but penalties and errors are just sapping our energy and making it hard for us to defend our line.
“But we haven’t lost faith and head to France confident.”