Talking Sport - We can make gains in the capital

Phil Wilkinson
Phil Wilkinson

WIGAN’S bold decision to take a home game to London has polarised opinion.

It’s easy to see why.

The Warriors, in fairness to them, revealed last year their intention to take a game on the road if they finish in the top-four and, as such, get an ‘additional’ home match in the Super 8s. Fans won’t lose out financially.

But even so, I’m sure some season ticket holders will ask why they should have to make a 500-mile round-trip to watch a home match!

The venture is self-serving, in that it will strengthen Wigan’s profile and increase the amount of money which pours into the club.

And every fan should see the value in a Wigan Warriors which isn’t dependent on a millionaire owner.

But I take the bigger view.

Over the last few years I’ve seen America’s premier competitions in basketball and baseball take games overseas.

The rugby union Premiership has done the same, and several NRL games have gone on the road (Souths played Warriors in Perth recently... in front of a capacity crowd).

They are seeing the value of growing their brands (and I hate that word in sport). Which is why 12 NRL clubs are now keen to be involved in the expanded World Club Series when, a year ago, organisers struggled to find three participants.

It’s why the NFL had three games at Wembley last year. I went to one of them, and it was great. Came home with a bag-full of merchandise, too... as well as a greater interest in American Football,.

The harsh reality is rugby league is fighting for attention, air-time, column inches and – yes – spectators in a congested markets. Sports like darts, UFC, union... they are all a lot bigger than they were a decade ago.

Sports shops in Wigan sell merchandise of American sports clubs!

If league – and Wigan – simply try and stay still, they will inevitably go backwards. The sport needs to try and strengthen, even if it comes with the short-term loss of a home match.

I’m not suggesting Wigan, or rugby league, can operate on the same scale as the NFL. A game in London is more likely to be at Fulham than Wembley.

But there’s no reason why, if executed well, operated right and if fans are given enough notice to make a weekend of it, the move can’t be a success.

As journalist (and occasional drinking-partner) Steve Mascord often remarks, rugby league may be a small sport ... but it should still strive to be the best small sport it can be. Otherwise, it risks getting smaller.

I DIDN’T agree with Shaun Wane’s description of Wigan’s performance as “awful”. I thought there were bits to enjoy, plenty of spirit.

No doubt, St Helens were the better team, and yet Wigan were right in there until, well, you know the rest...

It was hard not to feel a degree of sympathy for Matty Bowen, who presented Saints with two tries by twice failing to defuse attacking kicks. But No.1 Kris Radlinski used to describe catching the ball as a “non-negotiable” part of a full-back’s role. And it will be interesting to see whether Bowen holds onto his place this week.