Toulouse Olympique are unlikely to spend up to the salary cap but chief executive Cedric Garcia is confident the French club can survive in Super League in 2022.
Garcia is pushing ahead with plans for next season after Sylvain Houles’ team secured promotion to the top flight thanks to a 34-12 win over Featherstone in the Million Pound Game in Toulouse on Sunday night.
It is the culmination of a dream that began in 2003 when Toulouse lost out, along with Villeneuve, to the Catalans Dragons as the Rugby Football League’s preferred French option.
Garcia says the club have ambitions to match the achievement of the Dragons, who played in their first Grand Final on Saturday night, but are initially setting modest targets, the first of which is to avoid the fate of Leigh who were relegated after their first season in Super League.
“We’re not saying we’re aiming for the play-offs,” Garcia told the PA news agency. “We’re aware of the size of the challenge, it’s a big step up from the Championship but we’re up for it.
“We’ve been growing off the field and building the squad for quite a long time now and, if we had to play a Super League match next week, we could do it. We’re not too far off.”
With two-thirds of the full-time squad already under contract for 2022, Houles believes he needs to add only “three or four” new players to add depth and Garcia insists the club will spend their money wisely.
“I don’t think we will spent to the cap in our first season,” said Garcia, who has been involved with the club for the last 15 years.
“We need a little bit more depth but we feel we also need continuity so we are not going to change the squad because we trust in our players and I think we can definitely survive in Super League with the players we have.”
Garcia confirmed that Australian Jy Hitchcox played his last match for the club on Sunday and will be leaving alongside fellow winger Bastien Ader and prop Remi Casty, who has retired.
Hitchcox, who played in Super League with Castleford, is being forced out due to the more stringent overseas quota rules that apply in Super League.
“We told Jy quite early that it would be difficult to retain him and he has been fantastic,” Garcia said. “He was on a mission to bring the club to Super League and he gave his maximum right to the end.”
Garcia says the prospect of playing in France’s fourth-largest city will be a powerful aid to future recruitment and he is confident the club can attract regular five-figure crowds to the Stadium Ernest Wallon they share with their rugby union neighbours.
After drawing a crowd of 6,871 for their play-off semi-final against Batley, Toulouse were even more encouraged by the turn-out of 9,235 at short notice for the visit of Featherstone.
“We need to aim for at least what we got yesterday, “Garcia said. “There were about 200 Featherstone fans at short notice and in Super League we could be talking about thousands of away fans.
“With more exposure I am sure we can increase our own fan base and we’ll be able to fill Stade Ernest Wallon for the derby, which is 18,000, or 19,000.”
Garcia fears the Dragons’ Stade Gilbert Brutus, with its 12,000-capacity, may not be big enough for the derby and says his club may consider switching future games to the city’s football stadium which can hold 33,150.
They promise to be halcyon days for a club that went 18 months without a home game due to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
Toulouse also had to find around 500,000 euros to fund charter flights to matches in England for which Garcia says they are indebted to big businesses.
“Fortunately our strength is our sponsors,” he said. “We have a huge business network and before Covid we generated 1.6 to 1.7 million euros in sponsorship.
“We continued to organise many events in the absence of matches but I have to say I’m glad the season is over because it would have been difficult to afford any more charter planes.”
As part of the participation agreement for their time in the Championship, Toulouse were forced to fund the travel costs of away teams and negotiations are under way for the arrangements in Super League.
Garcia says the club are also looking into the conditions attached to playing in the Challenge Cup before deciding whether or not to re-enter the competition in 2022.
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