Family overwhelmed by Wigan Warriors' support for dad in cancer battle

Joe Bennett, from Kitt Green, is receiving palliative care from Wigan and Leigh Hospice (WLH) after receiving the devastating news that treatment for his liver cancer should be stopped.
Joe Bennett holding the medal Wigan Warriors gave him, with his son ScottJoe Bennett holding the medal Wigan Warriors gave him, with his son Scott
Joe Bennett holding the medal Wigan Warriors gave him, with his son Scott

Joe, who is 62, has been following the Warriors for decades and the club has been by his side throughout his family’s darkest and toughest moments, with a host of players and senior figures ringing him to keep his spirits up.

And his son Scott was recently invited to the club to receive a special gift for his dad from executive director Kris Radlinski and was stunned to find that it was a League Leaders’ medal.

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Kris also sent the Bennett family a beautiful message ahead of the club’s Grand Final appearance last Friday, saying the team was just playing in another rugby league match while Joe was fighting in “the real game”.

Scott, 40, said: “The whole family cannot thank the Wigan Warriors enough for how they support and care for my dad.

“We are just so proud. The Warriors are not just a local rugby club, we class them as family for what they are doing.

“They have gone above and beyond.

“We’ve had this fantastic support during a pandemic when there have been wage cuts and job losses and it has been really tough for Super League clubs.

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“To me it is like they are injecting dad with their support and the players’ strength.

“We can see it in him, he is getting energy from it. That is just what we need for him.”

Joe, of Buckland Drive, started going to rugby league matches at Central Park in 1972 and has followed his favourite side up and down the country.

His health difficulties began in 2017 when he was diagnosed with osophageal cancer, but after chemotherapy and a major operation he was given the all-clear.

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However, follow-up appointments in 2019 discovered secondary cancer in his liver and Joe was offered a place on a clinical trial.

This, though, proved unsuccessful and although he received chemotherapy throughout the pandemic scans done in the autumn showed the cancer had progressed and it was decided that further treatment should not take place.

The news was a hammer blow to his close-knit family of his wife Diane, sons Paul and Scott and grandchildren Joseph, Maddie and George.

He had already showed extraordinary battling qualities as he also recovered from several bouts of pneumonia during his cancer ordeal.

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Joe is currently being signed up for a second trial organised by a pharmaceutical company, which was set up after someone Scott got to know doing Ironman triathlons asked for a second medical opinion, but his palliative care from the hospice nurses will continue during this.

The Warriors first found out about Joe’s illness last year after being informed by one of his friends, and Kris Radlinski invited him for lunch at Robin Park, gave him a tour and introduced him to some of the players.

They kept in touch but when Joe recently told Kris of his diagnosis the support from the club stepped up dramatically.

Players who have spent time on the phone with him in the last few weeks include Zak Hardaker, Brad Singleton and Liam Marshall.

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Joe also had a conversation with head coach Adrian Lam while John Bateman rang from Australia to speak to him.

The family also received a mention live on Sky Sports just before the kick-off in the semi-final match against Hull FC courtesy of former Wigan Warriors winger Brian Carney.

However, the club’s most generous gesture came after that Warriors victory, when Joe recorded a video message of thanks.

Scott said: “Kris Radlinski told us he played the message to the squad on the Monday and then he got in touch with me saying he had a special gift for my dad.

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“We were expecting it to be a rugby ball or a signed shirt so it was absolutely unreal to get it home and find it was a League Leader’s medal.

“For the club to do that is unbelievable. You can’t buy one of these. We’ve got it hung up and we’re going to get it framed.

“The players have been so caring and supportive towards my dad. These have not just been five-minute phone conversations, Adrian Lam was on for a good 15 minutes.

“They’ve done all this while they’ve been so busy in the build-up to the play-offs and progressing to the Grand Final. I just cannot praise them enough.”

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In the run-up to the season-ending showdown against St Helens Kris Radlinski wrote a personal message to the Bennett family explaining in moving terms just how close to the hearts of everyone at the Warriors Joe’s cancer battle is.

He wrote: “I take my responsibility seriously. It’s not just a rugby league club. It’s people’s place of refuge.

“I will be thinking about your dad when I drive to Hull on Friday. We just play a game of rugby. The real game is the one that your dad is fighting in currently.

“He appears to be fighting it with great dignity and pride.”

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