BACK in the Championship after a five-year absence, Toulouse Olympique are significantly stronger than they were in 2009, 2010 and 2011.
Back then, they won 21 of 60 league games over three seasons, after which they slipped away into French domestic rugby before re-appearing in League 1 as a major force in 2016.
A remarkable return to the English game last year saw them win 20 and draw one of 21 league games. Their draw was at Rochdale, who later stunned the entire sport by going to the south of France in the end-of-year play-off and winning to lift the League 1 title and book their place in this season’s Championship.
Rochdale tell the story that the entire sport was so convinced that Toulouse would win that, come the presentation of the trophy, the only ribbons available were the French team’s blue ones.
Embarrassed or not, they made no mistake in their second-chance game, beating Barrow to join Hornets in the second tier this year.
And at the Crown Oil Arena last Sunday they smashed Rochdale 52-14 to stick hold of second place with six wins out of eight, their only losses so far coming at Bradford and at Sheffield.
They showed zero interest in the Ladbrokes Challenge Cup, fielding a young and inexperienced side and getting well beaten in the Stade Ernest Argeles by Batley Bulldogs.
All their onions are on one string —- and it leads to the Betfred Super League.
It might be a toss-up who gets there first, Toulouse or Canadian representatives Toronto Wolfpack, currently smashing all before them one tier behind the Frenchmen.
Said Oldham boss Scott Naylor: “It’s going to be just as tough as it was when we went to Hull KR.
“They’re full time and they’ve got a big squad of quality players, who play good rugby.
“We’ll go and have a go at them and see what happens.”
Coached by ex-French international Sylvan Houlas, who played with Wakefield, London Broncos and what in those days was a combined Huddersfield/Sheffield side, Toulouse are a mix of French players, Aussies and others from all over the south Pacific.
Jonathan Ford, an Australian stand-off, is the man who makes them tick.
His half-back partner is Stan Robin, once of Catalan Dragons and a player Oldham came across last year when he had a loan spell from Dragons at Sheffield Eagles.
Another Aussie, second-row man Rhys Curran, is an explosive runner, while other forwards of note are Tyla Hepi, son of Kiwi Brad Hepi, and Andrew Bentley, a French international, whose brother Valu was a Roughyeds crowd-pleaser some years ago as well as being a popular stall holder on Royton Market.
Kuni Minga, a winger from Papua New Guinea, is one of the most prolific try scorers in the Championship. Injury kept him out of the side at Rochdale, but he is fit and ready to face the Roughyeds.
“Whether I play him is a different matter,” said Houlas.
The French boss refutes claims that Toulouse are fully full-time and says the club’s future will take care of itself so long as he and his players keep winning.
He said: “The long-term plan is to get into Super League. We’ve been working on that project for a long, long time. If and when we get there we’ve got to be ready.
“It’s no good going up if we’re not ready, so we just take one game at a time and we’ll see where our results take us.
“I expect a tough game with Oldham. They’ll be confident after their win against Bradford. They’ll be looking to come here and beat us.”