The Betfred Championship season is entering its final four weeks. Toronto Wolfpack currently sit proudly at the top of the table with 33 points from eighteen games, with a spot in the Qualifiers now secured.
Below them, the battle for the final three places could not be tighter. Over the next week, we will be looking at the teams eager to secure one of the final three spots, including their form, star men and remaining fixtures- today’s look is at Toulouse Olympique.
Toulouse Club History
Toulouse Olympique were formed in 1937 two years after the founding of the French Rugby League Federation.
They are six times winners of the French Rugby League Championship, with their most recent title coming in the 2014-2015 season, where they fended off still competition from Lezignan Sangliers and AS Carcassone respectively.
In 2005 the club became the first French side to make it all the way to the Challenge Cup semi-finals after beating Widnes 40-24; however, they would go on to lose to World Club Champions Leeds 56-18 at the Galpharm Stadium in Huddersfield.
The club applied to get Super League status in both 2003 and 2006, but lost out firstly to a bid from fellow french side Catalans Dragons and then were overlooked in favour of Salford and the Crusaders.
In 2009 the team was invited to join National League 1, which is now the Betfred Championship as we know it today. However, with no direct access to the top division, their presence lasted only three seasons.
They departed in 2011, but in 2015 it was announced by the RFL that they would be returning to the fold starting life in Championship 1 for the 2016 season.
They swept all before them during the Championship 1 2016 going on to finish the season unbeaten but lost in what could only be described as a shock result to Rochdale Hornets in the Championship 1 final. They would eventually secure promotion via the playoffs, beating Barrow in the playoff final.
Toulouse have retained a place in the French top tier with their second team Toulouse Olympique Broncos, having amalgamated with Toulouse Broncos from the French second division.
Stand Out Player Past and Present
One of the key position for any team is somebody who can consistently and methodically step up each and every game; for Toulouse, that job falls to Mark Kheirallah.
Born on the 15th February 1990, this French international has nerves of steel and can kick goals from just about anywhere. It is of no coincidence that he was the clubs leading points scorer when they returned to the English game and was also nominated for the clubs player of the year award.
Before the start of the 2018 season, it was announced that Toulouse would play no part in this season’s Ladbrokes Challenge Cup.
Some might ask why?
After a drastic drop in form towards the end of the 2017 season, one that saw the French side contending for the Championship Shield instead of challenging for a Super League place, they decided that the Cup was a distraction from the clubs’ long term goal.
Starting this season in a similar vein to last, they made it to the halfway point in exactly the same place as last year, 2nd.
The club has called Blagnac home this season and yet again France has been a fortress for the Toulouse. They have been beaten only twice by Toronto and Leigh, but produced a performance full of flare and a never-say-die attitude that you expect from a French side. In addition, both losses were only by a slender two point margin.
Making it to the finish with a roar, not a whimper
Olympique are currently deadlocked with Featherstone Rovers and only retain the 2nd spot in points difference, although the difference shrank dramatically after Featherstone’s 80-4 demolition of Rochdale last weekend.
With four fixtures remaining, it’s tough to see them faltering again this year having beaten all the sides either at home or away.
With London still fighting to get into the top four and Halifax looking to cement fourth place the home stretch, it has the potential to be a bumpy one for the French side if they fall away as drastically as last year.
Although winning the Championship Shield would have been the highlight of most teams season, after sitting in second for most of 2017 and falling away like they did, it could be concluded that this ambitious French side saw last season as a failure. In 2018, they will not want a repeat.