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It is a popular view that 2019 could be the year where we really see Catalans truly challenge for the Super League title. After an excellent second half of the season in 2018, culminating in their maiden Challenge Cup triumph, they have added impressively to an already strong playing squad and, if Steve McNamara can get his team carrying on from where they left off, they may well push very hard.
As with any club, recruitment and retention is vital in the off-season and, while the Dragons have lost the impressive Josh Drinkwater after his short-term deal expired, the departures of Iain Thornley and Paul Aiton won’t be huge misses as they were hardly first team regulars. Coming into the fold will be Sam Tomkins, Matty Smith and Matt Whitley from Wigan, St Helens and Widnes respectively. In the shape of Tomkins, McNamara has brought a serial winner into his squad and, fresh from a Grand Final winning final season with Wigan, he has already put on record how keen he is to have a successful stint with the Dragons. He will likely slot in at full-back with Lance Todd trophy winner Tony Gigot moving into either the centres or the halves and that just demonstrates the depth McNamara now has in the ranks. Smith is another experienced, successful player to join the club. Despite being out of favour at St Helens in 2018, Smith’s ability is certainly there and he will have the drive to prove a point that he can still deliver at the top of Super League in the Dragons shirt. Finally, England Knights’ man Whitley is one of the highest-rated English youngsters playing the sport. Despite being part of the relegated Widnes team, the 22-year-old was one of few Vikings to enhance his growing reputation in 2018. Now part of a team who are much more likely to dominate matches, expect to see Whitley shine and blossom in coming years with senior international honours certainly on the horizon.
Adding to their back division is a wise move, especially given the already existing strength in the Dragons’ forwards. Viewed as having one of the most powerful packs in the competition, it will be interesting to see how the big men adapt to the drop in interchanges allowed but, if they manage it correctly, they will provide a platform for the likes of Tomkins and Smith to dictate the game. Smith will no doubt thrive on performing behind a pack who set the platform for him to control the game.
While St Helens will likely be strong once more, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Wigan take a little bit of time to adapt to the new Adrian Lam (soon to be Shaun Edwards) regime after so long under the stewardship of Shaun Wane. Leeds are another team in transition and, given the turnover of players and staff in the off-season, they are another team who may take a bit of time to grow accustomed to a new era for the club. Warrington will be hoping to push Saints all the way in Steve Price’s second year and the Wolves, along with Saints, may set the Super League pace in 2019. The Dragons, however, will be very confident of pushing them all the way – and they may just shock the rugby league world once more.