Challenge Cup Final: Triumph for Catalans Dragons would give '˜huge lift' to game in France

Catalans Dragons are seeking to provide a major boost to rugby league in France by becoming the first team outside Britain to win the Challenge Cup.

Catalan Dragons' Coach Steve McNamara (right) during the captain's run at Wembley Stadium yesterday. Picture: Adam Davy/PA

Warrington stand in the way of the history-chasing Dragons, who are looking to go one better than their runners-up spot on their only previous trip to Wembley in 2007.

Captain Remi Casty, the sole surviving player from the defeat by St Helens 11 years ago, is from from Narbonne, a 50-minute drive from Perpignan, but knows what impact a Cup triumph could have in the rugby-mad city.

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“Not just for Perpignan or the region, but for French rugby league it would mean a lot,” he said. “They are all behind us, they want us to come back with the trophy.

Catalan Dragons' Captain Remi Casty during the captain's run at Wembley. Picture: Adam Davy/PA

“You can feel the atmosphere and we have to feed off them.”

Casty says a Dragons triumph would encourage more local youngsters to play rugby league instead of union and football, while the club’s former England coach Steve McNamara believes it would provide a fillip for the national team.

“It would be massive for the club first and foremost for the effort everybody has put in,” said McNamara, who returned to Super League 14 months ago after a three-year stint in the NRL.

“It would be really great for the area.

“The trophy has been in my home town Hull for the last two years and has been around the schools, businesses and colleges.

“To be able to promote the game with a trophy like that would give this area a huge lift because it is different, a French team in an English-based competition, so I think it would help the game massively.

“And from an international perspective, the standard of the French players in our group is rapidly improved and it’s great for their game as well.”

Victory for the Catalans would be particularly timely, coming on the day the city’s rugby union team celebrate their return to the top flight with a home game against Stade Francais.

“They’re back up and they get good support,” McNamara said. “It’s not dissimilar to England, there’s not much love lost between the two codes,

“It’s all political, but good luck to them and hopefully we continue our form as well.”

In a sign of a new entente cordiale, USAP, the 15-man club, are to show the Cup final in their clubhouse while France president Emmanuel Macron has sent a good-luck message to the Catalans.

But, if there is pressure on the Dragons to lift the first silverware in their 12-year history, it is nothing compared to the stress they experienced last September when they had to win their last match of the season to preserve their Super League status.

Casty said: “Last year there was more pressure on us with the Million-Pound Game. It was very suffocating to be part of that game.

“Everyone is positive and there is a lot of pressure because you are in the final but it’s a good pressure, having to win rather than not lose as in the Million-Pound Game.”