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How the Warrington Wolves and Catalans Dragons embrace started
THE special bond between Catalans Dragons and Warrington Wolves started and grew from the first time Perpignan was swathed in primrose and blue.
According to French officials, more than 3,000 Wolves fans converged on the medieval city of Perpignan to watch the clash with new Super League outfit Catalans Dragons in 2006.
The turnout far outweighed that of any other Super League club visiting Catalans Dragons in their debut season.
The number of travelling supporters – described by then coach Paul Cullen as ‘beyond belief’- remains a record for a Catalans Dragons home Super League fixture.
Perpignan had never seen an invasion like it and new friends were made that day.
The locals lapped up the Wolves carnival experience that had started from the moment the first fans arrived in the area a week leading up to the game.
Indeed, Warrington fans were so popular among the French people that regional newspaper La Independant published a special message of thanks printed in English on the day of the game.
It was estimated that the weekend could have injected more than £500,000 into the economy with bars, restaurants, hotels and cafes jammed throughout.
Fans travelled from as far away as Spain and elsewhere in France, while others took bikes, trains and even a camper van to get to the game.
And before and after the game, supporters mixed with French rugby fans, swapping stories and shirts.
One French couple celebrating their wedding were given a standing ovation from Wolves fans as they made their way to have their pictures taken in the historic city centre.
And hundreds of motorcyclists taking part in an annual rally stopped to listen and join in with songs from fans in a bar alongside the city centre canal.
A convincing Wolves win made it all worthwhile for supporters who outsung and outnumbered the flag-waving home fans in a 5,877 crowd, turning the Dragons’ temporary Stade Aimé Giral home into a second Halliwell Jones.
"The support we brought with us was beyond belief," remarked Paul Cullen afterwards.
"A lot of people paid a lot of money to come a long way and we worked hard to say thank you to them."
Warrington Wolves’ barmy army loved the experience, appreciated the opportunity and understood the importance of Catalans Dragons to the international rebirth of French rugby league.
It was clear they would be back for more of the hospitality, the south of France sun and Super League on the Med.
After the failure of Paris St Germain to make a lasting impression in the early years of Super League, there was trepidation from some quarters to go down the French route again.
But May 2006 was a big thumbs up to Catalans Dragons in Super League from Warrington Wolves and that has never been forgotten on the other side of the Channel.
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