Ex-NRL and Super League players abound in the Elite 1 league, which returns this weekend after its holiday break. France’s How about this for a star-studded lineup: Dean Whare, a center from New Zealand and a 2020 NRL Grand Finalist; James Segeyaro, a former hooker from North Queensland, Penrith, and Papua New Guinea; Morgan Escaré, 2018 Super League champion; Corey Norman, a former Queensland halfback; and Super League and NRL champion Joseph Paulo. All of them have signed with French Elite 1 clubs, so they should play when the league comes back on Saturday.
in various small towns. This is the strange world of Elite 1, where famous people from all over the world do well-paid work in complete silence from the media.
Veteran players are now staying in France for another year or two to play in the domestic league rather than returning home to Australia or New Zealand when their contracts at Catalans or Toulouse expire. After making his final appearance for Catalans Dragons in the 2021 Super League Grand Final, former Australia player James Maloney signed with Lézignan. This marked the beginning of this trend. Maloney was very forthright about his plans; He and his family wanted to stay in a beautiful area without having to put him through a full preseason or daily training.
Maloney, who is now 36 years old, is making a big difference for Lézignan, where he is joined by Norman and Jason Baitieri, a former captain of France and Catalans. All of these notable new recruits are in their 30s; Mitch Garbutt, a former Leeds and Hull KR forward who is now a Saint Gaudens player and coach, is 33 years old, Paulo, a former Toulouse colleague, turned 35 this week, and Segeyaro is 32 years old. However, the majority still have at least a few years of part-time rugby left in them.
French players who are returning from Super League are the other strand of this attention-grabbing recruitment. Tony Gigot, a scrum-half from France, was signed by Albi this week and will play alongside Hakim Miloudi, a former Hull center.
Benjamin Jullien, a second rower from France, will wear the Pia XIII Baroudeur uniform for the 200th time in his career. He and Whare went to Antoni Maria last month for the Donkeys’ first season back in the Premier League since the club folded shortly after winning the title in 2013.
While the attendance at most Elite 1 games hovers around 1,000, who is paying for these well-known players’ salaries when they are not making as much as they did in Super League?
The usual suspects, wealthy sponsors and owners, generous state benefits, and the traditional way French clubs get their money: local administration. Local sports journalist Steve Brady asserts that the renaissance is driven by money. It seems to be everywhere in Elite 1. After Covid, there is a financial confidence that is even more remarkable.
Is this spending spree indicative of new life in the French domestic game or the result of a few exuberant, ambitious clubs? Brady asserts, “I think it’s because of the rumored financial windfall the game is expecting from the 2025 World Cup.
” I am aware that the funding provided by the government will be extremely generous, permitting more of a torrent than a trickle into the French championship. However, there is a mix of joy and amusement. The official line is that these players will help young French players succeed in the short term while also having an impact in the long run. However, some treizistes (thirteenists) believe that it obstructs a path for local children and is an insult to the excellent junior development systems.
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