Jy Hitchcox backing Toulouse Olympique to deliver on its ‘crazy’ Super League potential

THE hangovers may have eased somewhat but Toulouse Olympique are still going “crazy” at reaching Betfred Super League – with Jy Hitchcox believing opportunities for the club are “endless.”

Read More

Read More
Huddersfield Giants feel St Helens star Theo Fages is "hugely significant" captu...

It was 2003 when the French club was initially overlooked by the Rugby Football League as the governing body’s preferred ‘expansion’ team for Super League.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Catalans Dragons got the nod instead to start in 2006 and they have forged ahead on behalf of all of French rugby league, winning the Challenge Cup three years ago and finishing top this term.

However, after Toulouse’s Million Pound Game success over Featherstone Rovers on Sunday night, there will be two teams from across the Channel in the elite next season, ushering in an exciting new era for the sport.

Inevitably, there have been naysayers questioning the worthiness of having another non-English side in the competition, especially after the unfortunate demise of the last Million Pound Game victors Toronto Wolfpack.

However, Australian winger Hitchcox, who joined Toulouse from Bradford Bulls two years ago, is a firm believer they can be a wonderful addition.

He told The Yorkshire Post: “I’m all for expansion. Unless you’ve lived in France and seen what’s going on here at Toulouse, I can see how it’d be hard for people to understand.

CRAZY TIMES: Toulouse Olympique's Eloi Pelissier, left, Justin Sangare and Jy Hitchcox, right, celebrate victory. Picture by Manuel Blondeau/SWpix.com

“But once you’ve been here and experienced it, it is crazy. People are complaining about (Toulouse bringing little) away support but if you can just focus on getting a few extra hundred of your own fans at your ground you wouldn’t have to worry about away fans.”

He points to Toulouse – the fourth biggest city in France, rich with art, history and culture and also boasting the reigning French and European rugby union champions – and sees a significant chance for the sport to advance.

Hitchcox, 32, said: “You only need to capture two per cent of the total population of Toulouse and you’ll have the biggest crowd in Super League every week.

“I think it’s going in the right direction. Some Super League clubs need nearly 100 per cent of their population if they want to get top-five crowds.

Toulouse Olympique's Jy Hitchcox is tackled by Featherstone Rovers' Craig Hall during Sunday's Million Pound Game which the French club won 34-12. Picture by Manuel Blondeau/SWpix.com

“With a city of one million people, the opportunities are endless. Rugby (union) is not such a different game and we share the ground here with arguably the best team in Europe; Toulouse Olympique has a bright future.”

In contrast, next season, they replace Leigh Centurions, a town in the borough of Wigan with a population of 40,000.

Featherstone, whom Hitchcox played for when he first arrived in the UK in 2015, has a population of around just 14,000 so you can see how those in favour of expansion have a strong case.

Moreover, Toulouse has its own vast history, too, given it was founded in 1937, as the former Wests Tigers winger explained.

Toulouse Olympique's players celebrate victory as Jonathon Ford holds the trophy. Picture by Manuel Blondeau/SWpix.com

Hitchcox said; “Before Sunday, we had a big week with different people coming in to speak to us.

“Our coach, assistant and trainer all played for this club 10 years ago so that was when the ball was set in motion to make Super League. It’s not just a fad; it’s been in the making for a long time. We had another guy called Raymond who came in to talk to us. He went to the first-ever Toulouse game when he was three years old. He’s 88 now.

“He’s come to every game he possibly can and spoke about before he leaves this earth he wants to see Toulouse playing in Super League. Things like that meant so much and then we all got messages from our families back home.

“With Covid, a lot of us haven’t seen our families for a long time. It’s been nearly four years since I’ve seen mine (in Australia) and they haven’t met my two-year-old daughter. To get a message through from them, just before we played, made the whole week extra special. It was really good.”

Hitchcox described the feeling at the final hooter as “awesome” and he added: “We had a crowd of nearly 10,000 there which was already an improvement of three thousand the week before.

“There was a big party at the club afterwards and then we had Mad Monday around the city. It was great. For me, when everything went pear-shaped at Bradford, I spoke to (Toulouse coach) Sylvain (Houles) and he said he was putting a team together to make Super League. I wanted to be a part of it. I thought we could do it. And we have.”

Sylvain Houles, head coach of Toulouse Olympique celebrates victory over Featherstone. Picture by Manuel Blondeau/SWpix.com

Ironically, Hitchcox is unlikely to play in Super League with Toulouse; he is out of contract and looking to move back to England.

He explained: “My missus has got a job as an assistant psychologist in Barnsley. She’s trying to get on to a PHD and she needs experience to get onto that.

“Her life has been on hold for the last three years with me moving around and with a couple of kids as well. But my son started school a couple of months ago and I’m going to try and get back. But it’s tough as I’m still on quota.”