AUSTRALIAN rugby league clubs are bracing for a French invasion in the coming months as the French Federation of Rugby League’s Elite 1 season wraps up.
Three French players have signed on with Australian-based clubs and will head Down Under as soon their clubs’ finals charge ends while another couple hope to finalise deals in the coming weeks.
The French season wraps up at the end of May, allowing players to sign on with Australian clubs before the June 30 deadline and play the second half of the Aussie season.
Former AS Carcassonne playmaker Russ Aitken is behind the move to broaden the horizons of French rugby league players.
“The French Elite competition is a relatively untapped resource for player recruitment,” Aitken said.
“There is plenty of raw talent running around in France and if placed into a professional setup from the right age I see no reason why many more French players couldn’t be playing in the NRL or Super League.
“It’s great to see so many French players in the Catalans Dragons team, but it’s those other players like Ben Garcia (Penrith Panthers), John Boudebza (Hull KR) and Theo Fages (St Helens) that are prime examples of the talent around.”
Along with Garcia, Boudezba and Fages; former Toulouse Olympique trio Levy Nzoungou (St Helens), Kevin Larroyer (Hull KR) and Gadwin Springer (Castleford Tigers) are all playing at Super League clubs.
French captain Mika Simon has been a standout for a struggling Wakefield Trinity Wildcats team in 2016, while centre Benjamin Jullien has found a home at Warrington Wolves.
Aitken spent four seasons at Carcassonne, in which he won the Elite 1 championship and Lord Derby Cup double in 2011-12, before returning to Australia at the end of the 2013-14 season.
“I know how great an experience it was playing rugby league in France so I want to help some young French players experience life in Australia through playing the greatest game of all.” – Russ Aitken
Realising there wasn’t a clear avenue for French players to join Australian clubs, Aitken took it upon himself to help those interested to advance their careers.
He has secured deals for former St Esteve Catalans Dragons centre Remi Vignau, who is currently playing rugby union for French Pro D2 club US Dax; Carcassonne’s Julien Agullo and Limoux Grizzlies prop Valentin Yesa.
Vignau is headed for Northern Rivers rugby league powerhouse Murwillumbah Mustangs while Agullo and Yesa will join Aitken at the Corrimal Cougars in the Illawarra competition.
Agullo and Yesa will have their work cut out for them in the Illawarra competition, which features a number of former NRL players.
However, they’ll have an opportunity to further their own games under the watch of former NRL player Brendan Reeves, who is head coach at Corrimal.
“The club is really pumped to get the boys out here and have been very accommodating, agreeing to find the boys accommodation, employment, return flights and match payments,” Aitken said.
Limoux fullback Amine Miloudi and centre/backrower Lilian Albert were keen to test themselves in an Australian competition, says Aitken.
The pair has received interest from clubs in Cairns, Port Macquarie and Ron Massey Cup club Guildford Owls.
Carcassonne second rower Bastien Escamilla was a late withdrawal from joining the Cougars after gaining permanent employment in Carcassonne.
Aitken, who is an assistant coach with the Cronulla Sharks SG Ball team, has always had a passion for helping further rugby league.
“The reason for doing this was purely due to my passion for the game, the international and French game in particular, and my desire to improve the French game,” he said.
“I know how great an experience it was playing rugby league in France so I want to help some young French players experience life in Australia through playing the greatest game of all.”
Aitken said he had a few other players interested in playing in Australia and said he would continue to search for the right club for them.
French players interested in playing rugby league in Australia should contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org for Aitken’s details.
Clubs interested in recruiting French players should contact Aitken in Australia on 0414 418 553.