LOSING to the Sydney Roosters is no disgrace. Not by a long way. The NRL is a quality competition and they’re the best of the best. Their squad is loaded with star power.
So going toe-to-toe with them for an hour, matching their number of tries during that time, could be qualified as a modest success in some quarters.
But the frustration from Wigan’s World Club Challenge defeat was they contributed to the defeat far more than the wizardry of any of their opponents. It wasn’t as if Sonny Bill Williams tore them apart, was it? Their own errors hurt them far more than that.
And that’s why the defeat has left a far more bitter aftertaste than, say, the loss three years ago when two very good sides traded blows for 80 minutes and St George-Illawarra just came out on top.
When the home team scored the final try, half the press box erupted into life. Not because the Aussie journos were Roosters fans, but because they’d gambled on a winning handicap of more than 18 (Aussies love a punt. There’s even a sport called ‘the trots’, in which horses ride around pulling empty, brightly coloured carriages. It looks like a pantomime version of Gladiator).
Wigan had hoped the Roosters may be underdone, but in reflection, it was always the visiting side who faced the biggest obstacles. Because Wigan have a new left centre-wing combination, a new full-back trying to find his feet, a new prop, a new back-rower... The Roosters, on the other hand, fielded a near-identical side to the one which won the NRL Grand Final.
Shaun Wane said he struggled to find positives from the loss, but I picked out a few. The fact they had a dig, some promise from Dan Sarginson and Eddy Pettybourne, and the biggest – of course – was Sean O’Loughlin’s towering performance which earned the highest praise: from the Pom-bashing Aussies.
Just imagine how he would have played with two good legs.
THERE’S long been talk of expanding the World Club Challenge. Wigan took the first steps by agreeing to move to Sydney, and the 31,000 crowd – in a city where sports fans favour the TV and without any promotion – offered promise.
And now with the likes of Ian Lenagan and other club bosses taking an active role in organising its structure, rather than leaving it to the RFL to sort out, I expect it to be developed in the near-future.
THE reach of the Premier League is huge, I already knew that. But this trip to Sydney has made me realise that it isn’t just the big teams who are in sports fans’ minds. It’s not like Spanish football, when the names of Barcelona and Real Madrid resonate around the world, while the others linger in global obscurity.
Several Aussies I spoke to during my trip had adopted a team. Either because they’re ancestor was from that area, or because they like the name, their Premier League knowledge is not restricted to Man United and Liverpool.
And Wigan Athletic’s eight seasons in the top-flight – and last year’s FA Cup success – have made them a popular choice, too. I had more than one bloke ask me over a schooner or two what Paul Jewell is up to nowadays.
If Rosler’s current side do enjoy success in either the Cup or the league, they can be sure it will be met with smiles 10,000 miles away.
FOR the first and, probably, last time, these notes come to you from Dubai airport, where I’ve been stranded for 16 hours because of a sandstorm straight out of Mission Impossible 3. The hotels are all full and there’s no chance of buying fresh clothes – the cheapest label I could find in this filthy-rich place was Hugo Boss. But it’s not soured a great trip. I feel privileged to have been the only English journalist sent to Australia to cover the World Club Challenge. In the last six months, this sports desk has reported from Wembley (four times), Russia, Belgium, Sydney and now Dubai. And next Sunday, it’s the most glamorous place of them all: Castleford!