Catalans Dragons - History

History

The club was founded in 2000 following the merger of two successful teams based in Perpignan, Pyrénées-Orientales, in France's Languedoc-Roussillon region: XIII Catalan and close neighbours AS Saint Estève. The merged venture took the name Union Treiziste Catalane, often abbreviated to UTC.

XIII Catalan were founded in 1935, and thus were founding members of the French Championship. During their run they won eleven French Championships as well as eleven Lord Derby Cups. AS Saint Estève were founded in 1965. They won six championships and four Lord Derby Cups. There were two other clubs in the twelve-team competition in the Pyrénées-Orientales area, Pia XIII and Saint-Cyprien. In 2002 Saint-Cyprien joined the merged UTC side. UTC proved successful, winning the 2005 French Championship and the 2004 and 2005 Lord Derby Cups.

In 2005 UTC applied to join the UK-based Super League, the highest tier of professional rugby league in Europe. They were selected ahead of Toulouse Olympique and Villeneuve Leopards to enter the league for the 2006 season. The franchise was named Catalans Dragons, with UTC remaining in the French Championship to serve as a reserve club.

The club set its target that 75% of the players will be qualified to play for France. This is not be the first time that a French side has played in the Super League, though the first attempt, Paris Saint-Germain, lasted only two seasons. Part of Paris' problem was that both codes of rugby have their stronghold in the south of France, while the north of France is more soccer friendly. Another problem was that their players were on loan from French league clubs and had to play for their own clubs as well, training in the south before undertaking the long journey to Paris or England for matches.

To ensure that Catalans Dragons had the best French players available to them the French rugby league decided that they could sign players from other French clubs without paying a transfer fee. They were also been promised that they will not be relegated from the Super League for three years even if they finish bottom. Many believe that Catalans Dragons will be joined by other French clubs in the Super League though the whole idea of expanding into France is not without its critics. Catalans Dragons won their first ever Super League match 38-30 against Wigan Warriors on Saturday 11 February 2006 at Stade Aimé Giral. The club encountered a predictable steep learning curve in their first season in Super League with many of the less experienced French players running out of steam towards the end of a gruelling, injury marred campaign. A particular loss was that of key playmaker and Captain Stacey Jones who missed much of the season with a broken arm. They eventually finished bottom of the table, but due to their 3-year exemption from relegation remained in Super League.

2007 saw strong recruitment by new coach Mick Potter with a string of high-profile signings from Australia including Clint Greenshields, Casey McGuire, Jason Croker and Aaron Gorrell, all seasoned NRL campaigners. Gorrell, a goalkicking hooker, in particular impressed in the first month but unfortunately sustained a bad knee injury in February's win over Leeds and missed the rest of the season. On 10 March 2007 it was announced Newcastle Knights hooker Luke Quigley would cover Gorrell's absence for the remainder of the campaign but a number of players sustained injuries throughout the campaign. Young stars Dimitri Pelo and Vincent Duport in the backs impressed, and show real promise for the future and for young talent in France in general. Recent addition to the fold at the Catalan Dragons is former Canberra Raiders, Melbourne Storm and Parramatta Eels Halfback Andrew McFadden who is now their Assistant Coach. Andrew said upon signing with the Dragons that he was doing it for his cousin, former prop Joe McCarthy, who was his "shining light".

On 29 July 2007, the Dragons became the first French side and first non-British side to reach the final of the Challenge Cup after beating Wigan Warriors 37-24 in the semi final. Catalans lost the 2007 Challenge Cup Final with St Helens at Wembley Stadium on 25 August 2007. They also managed to finish the 2007 season off the bottom of the table, ending the season in a respectable 10th place.

In 2008, the Dragons secured their first play-off berth, finishing third on the league ladder largely on the back of a ferocious forward pack. They smashed Warrington 46–8 in their first-ever play-off match on 13 September in Perpignan, but on 20 September saw Wigan blow open what had been a close game in the second half of their elimination semifinal, with Wigan ultimately winning 50–26.

Coach Mick Potter left the Dragons at the end of the 2008 season to replace Daniel Anderson at St Helens. He has been replaced by fellow Australian Kevin Walters. Recruitment for 2009 has been the most exciting to date of the Super League clubs and includes Stephen Bell and Kangaroo Jason Ryles, replacing the retiring John 'Sargeant' Wilson and Alex 'Super' Chan. The Dragon also recruited Greg Bird who was due to sign with the Bradford Bulls after his visa got refused by the UK authorities.

In 2009, the club was involved in two historic milestones for the sport of rugby league in Europe. During their match away to the Welsh club Crusaders on 23 May, the two clubs played the first European Super League match to not feature an English team. History was also created on 20 June when the club played in the first Super League game ever to be played in Spain, at Barcelona's Estadi Olímpic Lluís Companys, the venue for the 1992 Summer Olympics, against the Warrington Wolves. The Dragons led 10–6 at half-time, but Warrington finished as the winners 12–24. The purpose of the latter fixture was to promote the sport in Catalonia, with around one thousand tickets being sold in the local area, and the game itself being televised on the Catalan channel El 33. Immediately after the game, Walters commented that the event to Spain could possibly become an annual one, apparently complimenting comments made by the club's general manager about using a new high-speed link between Perpignan and Spain, which was due to commence running some time in the two years after.

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