Talking RL: Is Warriors’ London adventure worth it?

Wigan chairman Ian Lenagan is a former owner of London Broncos
Wigan chairman Ian Lenagan is a former owner of London Broncos
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THERE was an error in the stories which first reported Wigan were playing a game in London.

The bit which it said it was ground-breaking.

Many will remember Wigan playing games at far-flung locations around the UK, and the world. Ireland, Isle of Man, Wales, Scotland. Even America.

There’s a YouTube clip of Wigan playing in Dublin in the 1930s!

So there’s nothing new about taking games to new territory.

If anything, Wigan are now doing something which they’ve always done – pushed the envelope. The same way they agreed to play Warrington on a baseball field in America in the 80s, and Bath at Twickenham in the 90s. It was Wigan who drove the decision to play last year’s World Club Challenge in Sydney.

And now they are taking a game to London.

I have sympathy for the fans who will miss this ‘home’ game because of travel and expense.

And I’ll have some sympathy, too, for the Wigan players if surrendering home advantage costs them two points – they are unbeatable at the DW.

But every other business tries to grow its ‘brand’ (I hate that word in sport), and a rugby league club should be no different. That’s why a string of NFL and NRL clubs have taken games on the road in recent years.

Wigan are trumpeting the potential benefits for the club, but the move can only be good for rugby league as a whole.

Yes, it may be a minority sport – but I still want it to be the best and biggest minority sport it can be!

And remember this: a sport which is happy to tread water will only go backwards, because it is operating against a current of other sports growing in popularity.

American competitions are playing games in the UK, UFC has taken off (it has a category on the Daily Mail website; rugby league doesn’t), darts has gone big-time, cycling too.

At the start of this year, I wrote “rugby league risks being further marginalised in the national sporting psyche if it doesn’t scream for attention. Super League and its clubs need to think big. It can not afford to be passive. Rugby league needs to be aggressive if it is to grow. Think big. Think outside the box.”

I stand by that.

Which is why I have to applaud Wigan for doing something about it. I’d be a hypocrite to say otherwise.

Let’s not kid ourselves – the idea that, after Saturday, Wigan will have five thousand new fans and a thousand more youngsters playing the sport is unlikely.

But it’s a start. And who knows?

A future Wigan superstar may just take in his first ever live game of league this weekend. If that seems far-fetched, remember this: Ben Flower only fell in love with the sport when he went along to the Challenge Cup Final at Cardiff in 2004 as a teenage fan.

It makes sense that the Warriors should widen their recruitment net. And again, history tells us this is nothing new.

After all, of the club’s three legends immortalised on the Wembley statue – unveiled on Saturday – one (Billy Boston) was from Wales and another (Martin Offiah, pictured) from London!

THE Challenge Cup Final was a predictable disappointment.

But some of the reaction to the 50-0 final was ludicrous. One friend wrote on Facebook it signalled the death of rugby league in England!

Is it dead in New Zealand, given the Warriors leaked 50 points at the weekend, too? Is it dead in New South Wales, given they were beaten 52-6 in Origin III?!

Presumably, the game’s alive and kicking in France – but dead in Wigan – given Catalans won 52-16 last time!

No.

Sometimes, teams freeze when others thrive, blowouts happen. Which is why an NRL Grand Final finished 40-0 not long ago.

The unpredictability of rugby league is one of its great assets. But the down side is, you can’t guarantee a good contest.

My over-riding memory of the final will be the courage shown by Lizzie Jones in singing Abide By Me – and the united out-pouring of support she received from the fans – before kick-off. Incredible.

WELL done to my old school St Peter’s, winning the Champions School Y8 final 46-0.

They beat Welsh school Ysgol Gyfun Ystalyfera.

Yep, that’s how I pronounced it, too.

EVERY minute doesn’t matter. Not any more.

Not for Warrington, Catalans and Hull FC. With four rounds to go, they can’t make the play-offs.

Still, we hope professional pride will ensure the players’ minds haven’t already drifted to their holidays.

Because otherwise, Warrington’s game against Hull FC on Sunday – and against Catalans two weeks later – will have all the intensity of dressed-up friendlies.

Those sides can still shape how the play-offs form – Wigan face Catalans and FC before the end of the year, while Warrington’s last game is at St Helens.

And if Saints need to win that game to guarantee a place in the top-four, well... I dare say a few Warriors fans will happily don Primrose and Blue scarves!