Catalans Dragons coach Steve McNamara hailed a fairy-tale debut by centre Mathieu Laguerre as the French side clinched a dramatic 29-28 win over Hull KR in their opening game of the Betfred Super League.
McNamara turned to the 22-year-old after losing Samisoni Langi and Arthur Romano to injury and with Israel Folau still in Australia and was thrilled to see him create one try and score another to gain the man-of-the-match award.
“He didn’t know he was playing until Thursday,” said McNamara. “He’s gone in there and played extremely well.
“He’s been with us two or three years now but he was very thin – physically he wasn’t in a position to compete at that level – but he’s worked hard on that.
“He always had a talent and he’s actually got great physique and the ability to be a really big centre. He didn’t look out of place at all.”
The Dragons have taken a conscious decision to reduce the average age of their squad and to give more opportunities to French players this year and McNamara says the opening result is a vindication of the policy.
Hooker Alrix Da Costa played 80 minutes as a replacement for the suspended Michael McIlorum and full-back Arthur Mourgue produced a last-minute break that created the position for James Maloney to kick the winning drop goal.
“To get the experience in a game like that will stay with those young boys for a long time,” McNamara said.
“I’m thrilled for them and I’m thrilled for the coaches and the people who have helped develop them before us.
“It was a decision we wanted to make to give these players an opportunity. There was a bit of anticipation before the game about how they would actually play but they surpassed all my expectations.”
French Test winger Foud Yaha scored two tries but he was eclipsed by England veteran Ryan Hall, who scored a hat-trick of tries for Hull KR on his return to Super League.
The 33-year-old former Leeds winger failed to score during his two seasons in the NRL with Sydney Roosters but quickly rediscovered his touch on his return to Headingley as he took his Super League total of tries to 199.
Hull KR coach Tony Smith was delighted with Hall’s debut but disappointed with his side’s poor start.
“I’m sure Ryan would trade those three tries for a win,” Smith said.
“I’m pleased for him, I think he will score a lot of tries for us this year, I said that when he arrived.
“It’s disappointing not to come away with the win after fighting back so hard.
“They were out of the blocks quicker than us but we gave ourselves a chance. We showed what we can do and for that reason I’m pleased.”
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