Tomorrow night Super League history will be made as Toulouse Olympique follow in the footsteps of Paris Saint-Germain and last year’s Grand Finalists Catalans and become the latest team from outside the UK to take part in Super League. They’ll have one main goal in 2022 and that’s to avoid the drop but they don’t have an easy start against a Huddersfield side who have recruited well and want to right the wrongs of 2022.
Toulouse have had a turbulent pre-season with skipper Johnathan Ford leaving the club and with doubts still remaining over Mark Kheirallah’s future in France. Already with a small squad, their backs are against the wall and have had to call upon Maxime Stefani from the Elite One Championship. The 23-year-old has scored two tries so far this season in the French league and could make his Super League debut tomorrow night as Toulouse look to turn their adversity into the perfect underdog story as key player Dominique Peyroux emphasised himself during pre-season.
The Giants however have an underdog story of their own. Somewhat written off after flattering to deceive in 2021, Ian Watson’s side should not be underestimated after making a number of astute signings this winter. Now that Watson’s side is fully taking shape, we could see the club back to its best. A fast start at the expense of Toulouse could really blow away any cobwebs after a disappointing 2021.
But which side is best place to claim a first win of the season? We’re analysing both sides’ chances now with a break down of tactics and the key battles in tomorrow night’s game.
Tony Gigot v Will Pryce: Whether Tony Gigot plays at fullback – as he did in the friendly against Catalans – or in the halves, he’ll have an interesting battle with Super League’s star of the future Will Pryce. If at fullback the maverick ball player will have to outshine Pryce and could have the skillset to do so. A Lance Todd trophy winner and one of the most skilful players in the league, he could set this game alight. If in the halves, his kicking game will be key to testing Pryce’s skill at fullback having made the switch this season. It could be a useful way of sapping Pryce’s energy. However, should the youngster deal with the inevitable testing, he could come up with the game breaking moments if Toulouse fail to shut him down.
Andrew Dixon and Dominique Peyroux v Josh Jones and Chris McQueen: Toulouse’s backrow is perhaps one of their strongest positions with two-time Super League Champion Dominique Peyroux alongside fellow former Grand Finalists and Saints forward Andrew Dixon. With work rate, experience and power they’ll form the backbone of Toulouse’s efforts in this game. However, if the exciting duo of Josh Jones and Chris McQueen can overpower them and show their attacking talents, Toulouse could find themselves in a sticking situation.
Mitch Garbutt v Sebastine Ikahihifo: Both with number 18 on their backs, as the game enters the second quarter Mitch Garbutt and Sebastine Ikahihifo will be tasked with swinging momentum their side’s way through their physicality. Garbutt is a two-time Super League Champion and could take on the very best props in the league but Ikahihifo is also a quality front-rower and a former member of the Dream Team. When they’re both on the field expect fireworks.
Where the game will be won and lost:
Toulouse caught the eye in their unbeaten Championship season due to the exciting rugby they played. In Super League they’ll need to earn the right to do that so nullifying the game management of Huddersfield new boy Theo Fages and gaining good field position on the back of strong kick returns from the likes of Matty Russell and co as well as matching Huddersfield down the middle will be crucial to seeing that French flair.
On the flip side, if Theo Fages can dig his heels in and boss the game, he’ll give Tui Lolohea and Will Pryce the platform to be devastating with the ball in hand.
Huddersfield are the favourites and certainly should thanks to their superb squad which has given them an outside chance of play-off rugby in 2022. If they can control the middle channel it could be the start to the season Ian Watson dreamed of. However, sometimes sport produces fairytale moments and in front of their own fans Toulouse could turn all their off-field struggles into an on-field memory for all their supporters.
That said, I can’t see past the Giants who, led by Theo Fages, could make a good account of themselves here.
Verdict: Toulouse 16-32 Huddersfield