Talking RL: Why Wigan have a great chance to make history

Shaun Edwards leads the celebrations at Brisbane in 1994
Shaun Edwards leads the celebrations at Brisbane in 1994
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We all know how good Dean Bell was for Wigan. We all know what Kris Radlinski did for the club.

We know how much sparkle Pat Richards, Adrian Lam and Trent Barrett brought from Australia. Brett Dallas, too. They are united in being legends of the Wigan club – and yet the current crop of players have a chance to do something none of those greats did... win a World Club Challenge.

This Sunday is that big.

For these players, it is a chance to make history. It is a chance to write their own legacies.

Shaun Wane says a week doesn’t go by without someone mentioning the win against Manly 30 years ago. Last week, Gary Connolly said a similar thing to me about the Brisbane win in ‘94.

It’s been a long time between drinks, though in fairness, Wigan have only played in two WCC since then – in 2011 and 2014 – and losing both.

The battered credibility of Super League is on the line

I honesty think Wigan have a great chance of winning the trophy this Sunday. Why?

For a start, they have a strong, well-balanced squad galvanised by last year’s against-the-odds Grand Final win.

Morgan Escare is the only ‘new face’ – there hasn’t been a high turnover, and even accounting for the absence of Tomkins, McIlorum and Manfredi, there is strength in those spots. Players are in their right position – and would you want anyone other than Shaun Wane leading the preparations?

Of course, Wigan’s prospects also depend on the strength of their opponents. And while Cronulla are very good, this is a new experience for them. It probably part-explains why they spent yesterday in Paris – they aren’t used to the travel and preparing for this fixture, in the same way Brisbane and Melboure are.

Also, those who watch the NRL closely believe the Sharks have vulnerabilities. They don’t have an established hooker and their two best backs are missing.

Which is not to say they don’t have excellent players, because they do; but Bateman, Farrell, O’Loughlin, Williams, Leuluai... they’re excellent players, too.

And Wigan will have the conditions and the crowd on their side.

The crowd. Fans not only have a great chance to witness history being made on Sunday, but they can help Wigan achieve it with their vocal support. Make it loud, make it a cauldron, make it uncomfortable for the Cronulla players.

And after 80 minutes, let’s hope Wigan’s players have ensured that – in years to come – a week won’t go by without someone stopping them and saying: “That was a great day when you beat Cronulla.”

Rugby league usually does events pretty well. World Cup, Magic, Challenge Cup Finals, Grand Finals...

But I can’t help feel the organisers have shot themselves in the foot by arranging a round of 11 other fixtures at exactly the same time as the World Club Challenge.

That’s 22 teams involved, including the likes of Hull KR and Bradford.

I don’t imagine many of them would have gone along to support Wigan had they been free, but many would surely have wanted to watch such a big game on TV.

The World Club Challenge is a major event in the rugby league calendar, and should be treated as such – by making it a stand-alone game with no other matches at the same time.

Two years ago when the World Club Series was introduced, I suggested Wigan fans should support the other Super League clubs involved.

And I was laughed at.

“I wouldn’t support St Helens if my son played for them,” was one memorable comment.

And that was from my wife.

Other remarks were much fiercer. Now, two years on, the expanded World Club event has not grown, as it had been hoped, into a meaningful competition between the best of the Super League and the NRL.

It has been trimmed back.

Wigan’s World Club Challenge will be preceded by just one other game – Warrington v Brisbane. Brisbane being the only other NRL side who wanted to travel.

I dare say it will be easier for fans to put club allegiances aside this weekend and back the Wolves. Because after two years of the ‘series’ the record stands at 6-0 in favour of the men from Down Under.

It has been five years since an English success in the World Club, and if there is another NRL whitewash this weekend, the fixtures will come under fresh scrutiny.

The World Club Challenge itself, I imagine, would survive as a stand-alone game, but the future of the tag-on games would be doubtful.

At best, the self-adulating Aussies will use the results to give Super League another good bruising. And who could blame them?

As Ian Lenagan rightly points out, it’s not the NRL’s fault for the World Club Series has not grown – it is the fault of the Super League clubs for not being competitive enough.

In the same way people talk about the expanded ‘97 series being a disaster, I still say it wasn’t a bad concept – the only trouble was the Super League sides performed so poorly.

So, in the hope of keeping this ‘series’ alive, in the hope it can grow into a proper, meaingful competition between the best sides from each competition, I will certainly be hoping Warrington win on Saturday.

The battered credibility of Super League is on the line.