Steve McNamara sees national pride driving Catalans Dragons towards Grand Final

STEVE McNamara believes Catalans being able to go for the Grand Final on home turf is crucial – as this is bigger than rugby league.

The Dragons boss knows they are on the verge of something big. He can hardly escape talk of their bid for glory.

If anything, he goes to work to get away from the building hype and after playing ‘home’ Challenge Cup games in England, he is happy his men can go for a place in Super League’s Grand Final in Perpignan.

Tonight’s semi-final against Hull KR, though, is about much more than just wanting the team to succeed.

McNamara said: “The increase in expectancy is more noticeable away from the club.

“When I bump into people or see them queuing for tickets and they talk about the game, that’s when I realise it means a lot to a lot of people.

“It’s not just rugby league fans. In Perpignan and Catalonia, they celebrate anything that is successful for Catalonia.

“People who don’t normally support rugby league are getting involved because it’s an opportunity for them to support a Catalan team. They want to be there – lots of non-sports people want to get tickets.

“Getting a home play-off is a big occasion, particularly for the fans down here after seeing Challenge Cup games taken away from here.

“Clearly for a game of this magnitude, having the majority of fans on our side and home comforts are great for us.

“Moving the semi-final was never mentioned but as soon as it was in the back of everyone’s minds because of what had happened.

“There was no reason for it whatsoever but you never know. There was no real reason to move the cup games either, that was frustrating.”

Winning the League Leaders’ Shield may seem an irrelevance to many English fans but it was treated differently in the south of France.

Tonight’s semi-final with surprise packages Hull KR is a complete sell-out and the feat has been marked with a surge in interest across the French part of Catalonia.

Go all the way, like they did in the Challenge Cup in 2018, and it is likely to register over the Spanish border in Barcelona.

And after spending last week not knowing who they will play, McNamara decided to take any guess work out of the equation, ahead of taking on some familiar faces from his home city.

He added: “We didn’t even know until Friday night who we’re playing. Producing gameplans for different opponents was a waste of time.

“Not focussing on an opposition was good, we were able to focus on ourselves. We had some things to work on in terms of what our defence looks like.

“I’m from the first village east of Hull, so it’s very much Hull KR territory but I watched Hull FC before going to play for them.

“However, I’ve got plenty of mates who are Rovers fans, I know Stanley Gene who’s on their backroom staff from my time at Huddersfield and I’m very close friends with their owner Neil Hudgell.

“But it’s no surprise we’re facing Hull KR one game from the Grand Final – they deserve to be where they are.”

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