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Super League: Toulouse hoping to take their chance during landmark campaign

There was a unique buzz within the rugby league world last week as the new season got underway in what could be a monumental 12 months for the sport.

For years, fans have shared their grumbles about the direction of the 13-man code, but it feels like there's a feel-good factor about the game at the minute.

There's so much to be excited about this year, with Toulouse finally getting the chance to test themselves against the big boys, with so much excitement surrounding their derby games with Catalans Dragons.

The 2022 World Cup will take place at the end of the campaign in England, while Channel 4's decision to broadcast matches could grow the sport better than ever.

Toulouse cannot afford to feel sorry for themselves

Some owners criticised the decision to reintroduce relegation and promotion in Super League, and it is easy to see why with both London Broncos and Leigh Centurions failing to stay in the top flight for a second successive campaign.

None of the teams coming up from the Championship have managed to adapt to the demands of the Super League, with squad depth the main issue.

Toulouse cruised their way to the top of the Championship in 2021, winning all 14 of their league games, before beating Featherstone Rovers 34-12 in the Million Pound Game.

The excitement of the new season soon turned to panic, though, as captain Johnathan Ford left the club two weeks before their first game.

Coach Sylvain Houles has a lack of halfback options at his disposal, and the longer Mark Kheirallah stays on the sidelines, the longer Toulouse may remain at the foot of the table.

Houles' side were thumped 42-14 in their opening game of the 2022 campaign, and it looks like they could soon be cut adrift unless they can add some new bodies.

James Cunningham, Chris Hankinson, Gadwin Springer, Matty Russell and Lucas Albert all put pen to paper ahead of the new campaign, but their squad lacks experience at the highest level.

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Sunday's fixture a good yardstick for French outfit

Toulouse travel to Salford on Sunday afternoon in Super League, and with the Red Devils finishing 11th last season, it will give Houles' men the chance to register their first points of the season.

The French side, 7/1 to win at the AJ Bell Stadium, have the element of surprise in the first few rounds of the campaign and Salford coach Paul Rowley knows they cannot afford to overlook their rivals.

He told reporters ahead of kick-off: "Then they've got some real experience in [Dom] Peyroux, [Joseph] Paulo and people like Andrew Dixon.

"They're a very, very dangerous side…they've got a great coach, and we need to be at our best."

At 1/14, Salford are expected to cruise to victory, but with rustiness an issue at this stage of the season, a home victory is not a foregone conclusion.

Channel 4's impact already felt in week one

Last week's Leeds Rhinos vs Warrington Wolves match was Saturday's opening game for Channel 4, as they dip their toe into the rugby league world.

The figures from week one were hugely encouraging, with the average match audience around 631,000 at its highest point.

That is the highest ever recorded audience for a live Super League match, so if that is anything to go by, then we are in for a ground-breaking 12 months.

As with anything new, there were huge doubts about Channel 4's coverage, but the general consensus on social media suggests the entire broadcast went down well.

Super League has treaded water for several years, but it looks like the RFL have struck the jackpot with the 13-man code now on terrestrial TV.

Sky Sports have been a loyal partner of Super League since its inception in 1996, and having a rival broadcaster should only bring the best out of both channels as they try to portray rugby league in its best light.

Channel 4 will cover ten games a season, and bosses could not have picked a better opening fixture, with Warrington just sneaking past Leeds at Headingley.

New viewers got to see one red card, several sin bins, and some thrilling tries, and the sport needs a boost ahead of the World Cup.

It seems like rugby league was fighting its own battle for years, but the sport has never had any issues with entertainment. The players will deliver on the pitch like they do every season, but now they may finally have the platform they need to grow the game.

Everything seems to be clicking at the right time, with the new TV deal coming just months before the World Cup. If new fans are on board, then ticket sales could go through the roof this winter.

It's only week two, and there is still lots to be done to grow the game. Hopefully, Toulouse can showcase their skills and stick around to grow the game even further in the south of France.

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