SUPER League new boys Toulouse Olympique announced their 27-man squad today – and it features quite a few familiar names, including three former Saints in Dom Peyroux, Joseph Paulo and Andrew Dixon.

It is a success story; one that has excited fans in England as much as in France with this big city offering huge potential.

Like all newcomers to the top-flight, Sylvain Houles’ side will have a tough job stepping up a level, with an already challenging recruitment period perhaps further complicated by the global pandemic.

St Helens Star:

Given the opportunity of doubling of the French contingent in Super League presents to broaden the sport’s appeal in the northern hemisphere, dovetailing with the 2025 World Cup announcement, is there a case to afford Toulouse the same protection that enabled Catalans Dragons to establish themselves?

When the Dragons first joined Super League they were exempt from relegation for the first three years, so despite finishing bottom of the pile three points adrift of Castleford in 2006 it was 11th placed Tigers who were relegated.

It allowed Catalans to build in Perpignan, climbing to 10th the year after, and they definitely did not need the exemption in by 2008, finishing third.

Who knows for sure what would have happened had the fledgling outfit been relegated down to the Championship, but a few years of yo-yoing between the divisions would not have been conducive to building this brand/club/team in the south of France.

St Helens Star:

If you accept that the Dragons have added something dynamic to ‘European’ Super League, then the logical conclusion must be that Toulouse get the same level of protection – and in turn that would give some guarantees to prospective new playing recruits.

The problem is that then opens up a real can of worms?

By that, if you were to give Toulouse an exemption, would Newcastle be equally deserving of one should they come up? Or York or London?

Playing Devil’s Advocate, you could say that the difficulties in the transition from Championship to Super League were even tougher for Leigh last year – who were given something of a poisoned chalice in taking that opportunity at short notice in the middle of Covid after Toronto had dropped out.

Of course, there were groans about a missed opportunity to spread the game, and a certain amount of ‘told you so’ when Leigh went down. No matter which team had been elevated in 2021, they would have had a hard job doing any better than the Centurions.

But in a way the clamour for York, Toulouse or Newcastle last year and the disdain for Leigh, sums up that there are plenty who, as long as their own club is not at risk, are in favour of selective licensing. This whilst ignoring the fact that in some cases Leigh’s stadium and support base is better than some established Super League clubs.

Picking the right 12 teams for Super League is not a process that can be done piecemeal and through compromise.

The health and vitality of the competition cannot be sustained if what needs to be done requires the approval of the very clubs, often plodding and treading water, who would be putting themselves at risk.

If we want a second Super League French side to establish itself, to add value to the top flight and give a much needed boost to the national side and our international game, then they should be given protection from the drop.

But if we also accept that the game needs to eventually push north to Newcastle and York and south to the Midlands, Wales or London then we would need a different process and go back to a form of licensing.

It is not a pin in a map process; it’s not about ditching healthy heartlands clubs to pluck a name from a development area that would sound impressive on paper but add nothing substantial.

Rather we need a well thought out strategy that robustly examines facilities and working practices of all clubs, from the heartlands and beyond, looking at their current methods from academy to top level – or their future proposals, a system that interrogates clubs’ long-term plans to grow their brand and support base.

And it needs a thorough grilling that ensures newcomers not only have something compelling to offer but the means to deliver them, not rely on pipe dreams, promises and cling on by a wing and a prayer.

It is funny, but it may just take a couple of teams swapping places yo-yoing between the divisions for the next six years for it to dawn that promotion and relegation between a full-time top flight and part-time league is fundamentally flawed.