Behind the Line: Theo Fages

Ahead of today's Challenge Cup final, France Men international, Theo Fages, talks to us about his journey into Rugby League, leaving France at an early age and his excitement to represent his country at this year’s World Cup.

17 Jul 2021

Behind the Line: Theo Fages

Ahead of today's Challenge Cup final, France Men international, Theo Fages, talks to us about his journey into Rugby League, leaving France at an early age and his excitement to represent his country at this year’s World Cup.

Ahead of today's Challenge Cup final, France Men international, Theo Fages, talks to us about his journey into Rugby League, leaving France at an early age and his excitement to represent his country at this year’s World Cup. 

The son of a former international, Pascal, a member of the RLWC95 squad, Theo Fages was always likely to develop a thirst for Rugby League. Raised in the southern region of France, the rugged half-back represented his hometown side until the age of 16. 

"I played for Pia from age six to 16," Fages explains. "Rugby League was always the one. Only for family reasons – my dad played, my grandad played before him, so we just grew up, me and my brother, going to watch my dad play and train," he continues. "He didn't try to get us into the game; we just followed him."

With just 5km separating his hometown and the Rugby League stronghold of Perpignan, many would have expected Fages to progress through the academy setup at Super League side Catalans Dragons. However, the French international's story is no ordinary one.

Believing that his opportunities would be more plentiful across the Channel, Fages upped sticks and moved to England in pursuit of a dream professional contract. At just 16 years old, he was given a chance by the Greater Manchester club Salford Red Devils.

"I always wanted to be a pro player and to play in Super League at the highest level," Fages states. "I kept talking to my dad, and he tried hard to find me a trial. Salford opened the door for me," he continues. "I came for the two-week trial and returned a little bit after to stay until the end of the season," he recounts. "I always wanted it, and I knew I'd have to work hard for it, but I never was fully confident that I would achieve it."

Away from friends and family at such a young age, it is testament to the character of the now experienced half, who has developed a never give in attitude during his successful Rugby League career. Legally a child at the time, many young sports stars in Fages' position would have been daunted by the prospect of living abroad with a new family. But for him, this was not the case.

"At the time, I was only young. I was just excited and looking ahead. I didn't think of it much," Fages explains. "I stayed with them for a year and a half," he says, referencing the Bradshaws - the Salford family that took him into their home. "They taught me English, looked after me very well, and they are probably the reason why I am still in England now," he continues. "It was hard, but I knew what I wanted, and all I wanted was to play in Super League. I worked hard for it, and I'm glad that I did it now."

Though much time has now passed, the former Salford Red Devils back has not forgotten the family that had such a significant impact on his career. Even with a busy daily schedule, Fages still ensures that the family bond does not break. 

"We see each other once every few weeks. We're not far, so we can always meet for some dinner," Fages continues. "I'm grateful for everything that they've done," he states. "It was hard sometimes as a young kid; you just doubt yourself," he explains. "They were very good with me, and that's what kept me fighting for it."

Small in size, but formidable in both attack and defence, Theo Fages has developed a reputation as one of Super League's most reliable halves. This potential was recognised early, as following his debut season with Salford in 2013, Richard Agar - the France head coach for the RLWC2013 campaign - decided to give Fages his first international call-up for the tournament.

International honours did not stop there for Fages. After establishing himself as a Super League regular, he was selected as captain of the France side during their 2015 European Cup campaign. Something he recounts with great pride.

"It's always an honour to play for France," Fages declares. "To captain your nation, it's the top of the list. It was a very proud moment for me.”

After joining fellow Super League side, St Helens, in 2016, Fages would go on to represent his nation once again one year later as France travelled to Australia for the 2017 Rugby League World Cup. 

"We had Australia, England and Lebanon in our group," Fages relates. "It was a tough group, with some of the world's best players there," he continues. "We didn't perform during that camp. We're not happy with the games there; we probably could have done better. So that's what we're trying to achieve for the next World Cup."

Now in 2021, attention turns to this year's tournament. Currently in his fifth trophy-ladened year at St Helens, Fages will be hoping to play an equally key role in achieving success with his nation at RLWC2021. 

Ahead of the Rugby League World Cup, France have stated their intentions by recruiting a highly experienced, high calibre coaching team to bring success to the nation. Head coach, Laurent Frayssinous, a nine-time France international and former Catalans Dragons boss, will be joined by multiple-time NRL winning coach Trent Robinson as Director of Rugby and former Great Britain international Sean Long.

"It's just exciting to be working with Trent Robinson and Laurent Frayssinous," Fages explains. "Sean Long as well, it will be exciting to be with him again because I worked with him before and I always enjoyed it," he continues. "I'm looking forward to the camp. It shows that French Rugby League is in a good way."

After seeing his country's football side return as champions from the FIFA World Cup in 2018, Fages is under no illusion of what a successful campaign at a sports tournament can do to unite a nation behind a sport.

"It's massive for us," Fages states. "Rugby League is only small in France, but that's the way to grow it by having a good World Cup," he continues. "All we want to do is perform so that people can watch on TV and enjoy the games."
At RLWC2021, France's route to the knockout stages will not be an easy one. Ahead of them, they face Group A clashes with England, Samoa and Greece. Though Fages acknowledges the nature of the challenges they will face, the overall goal to qualify from the group remains the same.

"We'll have to best at our best to get the wins there," Fages explains. "We want to qualify; then we'll see after that as it'll be the knockout games. The main aim is to reach the quarter-finals.”

"There's a lot of experience now, and the young kids are already showing that they can play at the highest level," Fages continues. "They can only get better, and they will do if they keep performing like that," he says. "They'll be a big part of our success with France if we can keep injury-free. It will be great for the squad."

During this year's fixtures, Fages could find himself pitted against fellow Super League rivals, as well as teammates. The respect from the St Helens scrum-half is evident.

"I play against the England players week in, week out. It's always good. I know how good they are. I respect them," Fages states. "Obviously, you're playing for your country, so you do your best, but there is respect there," Fages describes. "My teammates, I hope they do well in the World Cup, and they can perform well for their country too."
France kick-off their RLWC2021 campaign against Greece at Doncaster's Keepmoat Stadium, followed by battles against England at the University of Bolton Stadium and Samoa at Warrington's Halliwell Jones Stadium. Fages is relishing the prospect of playing in front of big crowds.

"They're great stadiums," Fages says. "It'll be great to play international games in good stadiums with a big crowd," he continues. "We want to enjoy it too; it's a World Cup, there's pressure there, but you want to enjoy those games because they are the type of games that everyone wants to play in."

"If they get the chance to come and watch us at a game, they will know that we are a proud group of players and we’ll give our best on the day," he declares. "We’re proud men, giving our best for 80 minutes.”

Don't miss your chance to see Theo and his France teammates in action at RLWC2021. Visit www.rlwc2021.com/tickets to buy tickets, hospitality experiences and travel packages.

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