Guest blogger, David Bailey’s thoughts on the recent announcement that Wigan and Hull will be taking Super League Europe to New South Wales
So it’s out in the open then, and although the news was initially broke by the Illawarra Mercury rather than Wigan, Hull and Super League, the announcement that the Warriors and Hull FC are going on tour in February and breaking new ground by playing a regular SuperLeague round in New South Wales, Australia has certainly got people talking.
The irony of many of those people asking “why” shouldn’t be lost either. Most of this week would have been filled with a ramp up regarding the Challenge Cup semi-finals, and maybe Leeds and Salford fans, in particular, will feel a little aggrieved at their rivals taking the spotlight away from the crucial fixtures.
Having said that though, surely, any media attention is good news for the game and Wigan and Hull should take some credit for this. Hull, were aggrieved at missing out on the World Club Series after winning the Challenge Cup in gripping fashion last year so we’re always looking at ways to test themselves against Australian opposition. Wigan, again are always looking at innovative ways to promote the club and the “brand” as Ian Lenagan appears to be calling it more and more.
Whilst lots of fans from other clubs belittle the idea, and a few Wigan fans moan about “one less home fixture” next season there can be no denying the ambition Lenagan has. Mind you with Wigan’s history, we should be used to the club pushing the boundaries and trying new things.
After all, it was Wigan that led the way to the sport becoming professional following the all-conquering Wigan team of the 80’s and 90’s. It was Wigan that set the tone for the World Club Challenge in the modern era when they invited Manly-Warringah over for the unofficial World Club Challenge on that October night in 1987 that is forever remembered by those present.
Wigan then ventured stateside with Warrington in Milwaukee in 1989 trying to bring the game to the vast North American market. Although nothing much happened after this, you can see the ground Toronto Wolfpack are making in Canada and if rumours are to be believed there could well be a New York based club looking to start off in league one in the not too distant future.
Following that Wigan then went overseas again and took the World Club Challenge back to Australia and defeated Brisbane in their own back yard on another one of those amazing nights etched into Cherry and White folklore.
The club then led the way in expanding horizons in a different direction in the 90’s becoming the first Rugby League club to win Rugby Union’s Middlesex 7’s at Twickenham, along with the cross code challenge games against Bath.
More recently the Warriors went back to Australia to take on the Sydney Roosters in 2014’s World Club Challenge, again something no other Super League side have done in the modern era.
Finally in a precursor to this announcement Wigan took a home game on the road, taking the game to Millwall to play Catalan Dragons in a Super 8’s fixture. The Warriors no stranger to London having partaken in the Capital Challenge sending a youthful team to take on the London Skolars in the dramatic surroundings of the HAC in central London ever since the London Broncos were unable to fulfil the game
The above examples are purely innovations on the field, the Warriors also leading the way in off field activities, setting up a commercial base in London, the business clubs, Wigan TV, working with amateur clubs the length and breadth of the country.
Wigan has always been synonymous with leading from the front and not afraid to take a leap of faith. These ideas won’t always pay off, and I guess we will never know the true commercial value of some of the previous examples but I can’t help feeling that sometimes Rugby League fans aren’t happy unless they have something to moan about. I’d rather the Warriors tried something new and get both fans and journalists alike talking on social media. One thing that cannot be denied is that Ian Lenagan always puts Wigan first and always fights his corner (proven in the recent judgement regarding the Widnes rearrangement).
My last hope for the game against Hull is that both sides revert to irregular hoops for this one off game, and somehow (health permitting) Brett Kenny and Peter Sterling can be involved as ambassadors to evoke memories of that classic Challenge Cup Final in 1985. It’s an opportunity worth exploring as 2 of the greatest players in Rugby League would no doubt add some interest in Australia to this already intriguing venture.