New season countdown: Steve McNamara says Catalans are ready for start of season

Catalans Dragons coach Steve McNamara says his team are ready for the start of the 2021 Betfred Super League despite having their shortest ever pre-season.

Wednesday, 24th March 2021, 7:49 am
Updated Wednesday, 24th March 2021, 7:52 am
Steve McNamara. Picture: SWPix

Although it is four months since they ended their 2020 campaign, the Dragons were only able to start training as a group at the start of March because of the continuing impact of Covid-19 in France.

There is speculation that France could be added to the “red list” of countries from where visitors to the UK have to go into quarantine for 10 days, but McNamara is confident there will be no disruption in the early weeks of the season and he is happy with the fitness of his players.

“There’s been a lot of speculation over the last 24 hours about what might happen but, as far as we’re concerned, nothing has changed whatsoever,” McNamara said in a joint press conference ahead of Saturday’s opening game against Hull KR at Headingley.

“There are exemptions for elite sports teams and the number of Covid cases in our area is low – it’s not like it is in northern parts of France. Everything is up and running as far as we are concerned.

“The players have trained extremely well on their own. Players in Super League are professional, it’s not like the old days when part-time players let their bodies go completely.

“They stay in good shape all year round so they’ve been there or thereabouts and we’ve had three or four weeks back together as a group.”

McNamara, who put his squad through warm-up games against a French Federation XIII and Toulouse, says the situation with Israel Folau remains unchanged and the club does not intend to impose a time limit on the dual-code international’s return from Australia.

Folau is still under contract for 2021 but remains in Australia tending to pressing family matters.

“We’re all aware of the current situation,” McNamara said. “You can’t put a time limit on something like that. I’ll worry about the players we have got, not the ones we haven’t.”

McNamara confirmed that new signing Dean Whare, the New Zealand Test centre who has taken Folau’s number four jersey, will make his debut on Saturday.

“He had to quarantine for a week but he’s in his second week with us and he’s a seasoned professional,” he said. “He did practically the full pre-season with Penrith and he’s slotted in well.”

The Catalans will start the season without former Wigan forwards Michael McIlorum and Joel Tomkins, who are carrying suspensions over from last year’s play-off semi-final against Leeds.

Meanwhile, Hull KR have a doubt over one of their new signings, Brad Takairangi, after he picked up a muscle strain in training.

“We’ve got a couple of bumps and bruises,” Rovers coach Tony Smith told the press conference.

“Muizz Mustapha and Will Maher won’t be available and we’ve got to have a check on Brad Takairangi.

“He’s copped a knock today and we need to see how he is in the morning.

“I’m not sure about him at this stage. I’d say he’s doubtful.”