10th August 2018, 12:15 | super8

Toulouse to embrace Super 8s Qualifiers

Toulouse to embrace Super 8s Qualifiers

Toulouse Olympique XIII head coach Sylvain Houles says his side should embrace their first experience of the Super 8s Qualifiers when they take on reigning Betfred Super League champions Leeds Rhinos.

A third-place finish in the Championship has earned Toulouse a crack at Super League and they will be encouraged by London Broncos’ shock win at Widnes Vikings in the opening round of the Super 8s on Thursday night.

A top-three finish means automatic promotion while the fourth and fifth-placed clubs can go up via the Million-Pound Game.

“We didn’t set any targets,” said Houles, who played in Super League with Huddersfield Giants, Wakefield Trinity and London and has been coaching Toulouse since 2012.

“We have never played in the middle eights and now we just want to embrace it and take it week by week and see how far it can take us.

“We want to test ourselves and see our level at the moment. We want to be competitive in every game.”

Until the Catalans Dragons turned around their fortunes in spectacular fashion, a French derby in the Qualifiers looked on the cards and now Toulouse fans can dream of renewing their rivalry in Super League.

“I was very happy to see Catalan safe,” Houles said. “It was very important for French rugby.

“Playing them in Super League would be huge, it would be unbelievable. Our supporters would enjoy that and it is at the back of our mind. It’s in our hands to push and make sure we join them in Super League.”

Leeds won six of their seven matches when they were in the Qualifiers in 2016 but they face a tougher prospect in the cosmopolitan 2018 version, with Toronto pushing hard for a place in the top tier.

The Rhinos ended the regular Super League season with one win in 11 games and are reeling from a 48-12 rout by Warrington Wolves in the semi-finals of the Ladbrokes Challenge Cup.

However, Houles expects the champions to survive and is realistic enough to expect a serious examination of his team’s promotion credentials on Saturday.

“They are the reigning champions so to see them where they are now is a bit of a shock,” he said.

“They have had a lot of injuries which doesn’t help and they are low on confidence but it’s a brilliant club and they will be fine.

“They had a tough day last weekend but it’s Leeds and there are still so many good players in that team.

“They are going to need to bounce back and they will probably be confident playing us but we’ll focus on ourselves and make sure we give them a tough time.”

Leeds lost hooker Matt Parcell and centre Ash Handley to injury in the defeat to Warrington but prop Dom Crosby returns after being cup-tied last week and Stevie Ward, Anthony Mullally, Ashton Golding and Jimmy Keinhorst are also recalled.

Toulouse are at full strength with the exception of Andrew Bentley, who has a long-term knee injury,  and centre or second-rower Rhys Curran who is suspended.