John Bateman’s widely-expected move to the NRL has been confirmed – but he will return as a ‘marquee’ player.
Wigan say they will receive a “significant transfer fee” for the England international, who is thought to be joining Canberra on a two-year deal with the option of a third season.
But he has already agreed a three-year deal to rejoin Wigan as a marquee player when he returns to the Super League, presumably in either 2021 or ‘22.
Super League clubs are permitted two ‘marquee players’, meaning only a portion of their lucrative contracts count on the salary cap.
Executive director Kris Radlinski said: “We offered John marquee player status and an increased leadership role moving forward but he was very honest with us about his desire to test himself in the NRL.
“There’s no ill-feeling or bitterness towards John who has been upfront with us throughout our conversations.
“It’s always hard to lose a player of John’s calibre but we are happy to have agreed his return to the Warriors once he’s finished his time in the NRL.
“With the recent signing of Joe Greenwood from the NRL to add to Liam Farrell and Willie Isa, coupled with promising youngsters such as Liam Paisley coming through the ranks, we still have plenty of quality in our second row department that we can call upon.”
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Bateman’s move to the NRL, first reported in May, has been confirmed by Wigan, who have not named his destination.
But it is understood the 24-year-old will be joining Canberra, where his close friend and ex-Bradford team-mate Elliott Whitehead plays.
And with England team-mate Josh Hodgson also at the Raiders and Wigan prop Ryan Sutton moving to the Australian capital next year, Ricky Stuart will have four English forwards in his squad in 2019.
Bateman was under contract for next season, but a clause in his deal allowed him to move to the NRL if a pre-determined fee - thought to be six-figures - was paid.
Chairman Ian Lenagan said: “John was adamant that he wanted to try his hand in the NRL and, once it became clear to us that he couldn’t be persuaded, we wanted to ensure that the club gained the best deal in these set of circumstances. I believe we have done so.
“Despite John’s experience, he is still only 24-years old and, throughout our discussions, he has made it clear to us that he is determined to return to Wigan in the future. He will do so as a better player then, entering the peak years of his career, so we will look forward to welcoming him back to the club.”
Bateman joined Wigan from Bradford at the end of 2013 and became an England international, and a firm favourite with the Wigan faithful. His replacement has effectively already been secured - Joe Greenwood moved to the club in the summer after agreeing a release from Gold Coast Titans.
Bateman, who was wanted by a clutch of NRL clubs, added: “This has been an incredibly tough decision for me to make as I have enjoyed my time at Wigan so much but, ultimately, I have always had the desire to play in the NRL at some point in my career so this opportunity something I didn’t want to turn down.
“Wigan did all they could, in my opinion, to keep me here but I was always upfront with them regarding my motivation to play in a different competition.
“Although I’m sad to be leaving the Warriors, it’s great to know I’ll be returning here in a couple of years. I’d like to thank both Ian Lenagan and Kris Radlinski for offering me the opportunity to return to the Club. My attention now is solely on helping Wigan as much as possible in the remainder of the Betfred Super League season and to repay the Wigan fans for their support.”
This has been a busy year for Wigan in dealing with contracts.
Oliver Gildart, Willie Isa and Romain Navarrete signed new deals, Greenwood and Swinton centre Chris Hankinson joined in the summer and Zak Hardaker and Joe Bullock have agreed deals for 2019. An option has been taken up on Dom Manfredi’s contract and it is thought both Thomas Leuluai and Sean O’Loughlin will play on next season.
But they are losing personnel, too, with Bateman and Sutton joined by Sam Tomkins (Catalans) in leaving at the end of this season - along with head coach Shaun Wane (Scotland RU).
A successor for Wane has yet to be confirmed but, as the Wigan Observer reported last month, former player Adrian Lam is favourite for the role in 2019, possibly on an interim basis for one year until legend Shaun Edwards has completed his Wales RU duties and is available.
Head of youth Matty Peet (Sale) is departing - he is being replaced by Mick Cassidy - and head of performance Mark Bitcon is thought to be wanted by Premier League champions Manchester City.