Team of the Month
Is this the year of the Dragon? All roads lead to Perpignan, as Catalan Dragons become Forty-20magazine’s Team of the Month for February
Before a ball was kicked, many pundits tipped Catalan Dragons to reach the 2012 Super League Grand Final. And when Trent Robinson’s side began the season with three straight wins for the first time in the club’s short history, it looked like they might be right.
A 34-12 win over Bradford at Odsal got the Catalan season off to a positive start, before a frozen pitch forced their opener in Perpignan with Hull FC to be postponed. Against Castleford, in round three, they got the win the hard way. Behind 16-6 at the break, four second-half tries finally saw off the Tigers’ gritty display.
The Dragons’ first real test, though, came one week later when they travelled to St
French side lulled Saints into a false sense of security before hitting them hard and late to inflict Saints’ first defeat at their Langtree Park stadium.
The Frenchmen trailed 26-8 with 22 minutes remaining; but then produced the greatest comeback since St Helens’ own ‘wide-to-West’ play-off victory in 2000.
Saints were brushed aside by a hungry pack of forwards led brilliantly by Lopini Paea and Remi Casty, which in turn allowed Ian Henderson and the mecurial Scott Dureau to torment their hosts. Dureau’s flick pass during a 13-touch move in the very last play of the game, with the ball worked right and then left until Daryl Millard’s thrilling denouement, will be spoken of for years to come.
Magnificent stuff and a sign, perhaps, that the Dragons have come to terms with the travelling required from Perpignan to England. Al Jazeera look like they’re backing a winner. Charlie Mullan
Team spirit: Catalan players mob Scott Dureau after his winning conversion SWPix.com the business February results: Bradford 12-34 Catalan; Catalan 28-20 Castleford; St Helens 32-34 Catalan. Average points for: 32.0. Points against: 21.3. Tries for: 17. Tries against: 11. Goals: 14/18 (77.7%). Minutes in front: 92. Minutes behind: 136. Penalties for: 28. Penalties conceded: 22. Average metres gained a game: 1448. Catalan won two of their three games after trailing at half-time. Twice came from 10 points down to beat Castleford. Rallied from an 18-point deficit to beat Saints. 64.5% of Catalan’s 96 points came after half-time. March fixtures: Wigan (A); Salford (H); Hull KR (H); Wakefield (A); Widnes (H).
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6 Forty-20 March 2012 Five Drives... and a Kick
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THE OTHER PENNINE WAY HEMEL HEMPSTEAD SHINE ON
As we pull into the car park of his amateur club, Hemel Stags, 18-yearold half-back Dan Sarginson reminds me of one of the things people already know about Hemel Hempstead.
“This is where the Buncefield explosion was” he says, as we drive the short-cut route through an industrial estate. “Just the other side of those buildings there.”
The London Broncos youngster, who used to live practically at the end of the field that is now the Stags’ home, will be guest of honour when the RFL announces the latest addition to Championship One from 2013.
“When teams travel to Hemel, they come this way,” Sarginson continues, giving his guided tour. “They all think this is all Hemel is - an industrial estate. It’s so much more than that.” And he isn’t just referring to the town’s Magic Roundabout.
When we walk up to Hemel’s Pennine Way headquarters, a single-storey building not dissimilar to a traditional working men’s club, his recently-found celebrity status is clear. “I’m still waiting for your Quins shirt,” says one of the directors standing outside. All becomes clear as we step into an entrance hall dressed on all sides with framed shirts. Among them, the England academy jersey of Wigan’s Jamie Acton and a club top worn by Keiran Dixon, one of the few highlights of London Broncos’ season so far. Sarginson promises to deliver his soon.
It’s clear that this club is not just taking a step up the domestic ladder. After 31 years of history, it is being recognised for doing what clubs of Championship level do; developing future top-level talent. A newspaper cutting on the wall, dated 1 April 1981, carries the headline ‘Rugby League comes to Pennine Way’. It was no April fool. Four days later, Hemel fielded a league side for the first time, the start of the journey that sees them now on the verge of the semi-professional ranks.
The M25 corridor: Ralph Rimmer, left, and Bob Brown reveal Hemel’s involvement
How times have changed. Throughout the day, chairman Bob Brown trots out his famous line about the Stags’ first game “...they played in borrowed shirts on a borrowed pitch” - several times. In the here and now, the club is awaiting delivery of a 400-seat stand that will turn their ground into a venue. Add to that a reasonably sized fulltime operation and former Penrith man Troy Perkins as head coach and the foundations of a Championship One side are apparent.
Nevertheless, it is Perkins who arguably has the toughest job over the next 12 months; to assemble a side capable of competing in the new look division. To begin with, will the player pool in the south be deep enough? The coach insists there have already been several expressions of interest; the prospect of life in London’s commuter belt a tempting situation.
Perched on a pitch-side picnic bench, RFL chief operating officer Ralph Rimmer describes the Championships expansion as “one of the biggest steps the game has taken in decades”. He emphasises that linking the new Championship clubs with Super League is crucial in establishing a two-way support structure. Pre-season friendlies are a likely part of these partnerships, as is sharing of coaching expertise. Possibly to the detriment of the lower-division clubs, there’s also huge interest in talent development, with ‘fasttracking’ of the most gifted upwards.
London Skolars are still very much part of this scene too, and they will be doing their best to ensure they don’t have a local derby next year. But whether it be a team in each of the top three divisions or not, signs are that people are going to find it even more difficult to argue against the good work being done on league’s latest motorway corridor, the M25.
Sarginson recalls being recruited by the then-named Harlequins RL academy. “We trained Monday, Wednesday and Friday with matches on Saturdays,” he says. “I had a two -and-a-half hour train journey each way on three trains.” It left him little time to devote to his studies, but he still recorded impressive grades in his A-levels last summer.
As we prepare to leave Hertfordshire, the thought of the Buncefield blast returns to my mind. Everyone in London remembers that Sunday - 11 December 2005. If you lived in the vicinity you heard or even felt it - 2.4 on the Richter scale. Further afield, a huge black cloud was visible, drifting 25 miles towards London, putting a dark cloud over the capital.
You get the feeling that the Hemel story will result in the exact opposite. A beacon of RL light is set to shine, with far-reaching consequences. Some things, though, never change. Ask Sarginson what he remembers of the 2005 explosion and he replies: “It didn’t wake me up. I was too tired from training.”
March 2012 Forty-20 7