Sean O’Loughlin hopes to win over some new fans to Super League when Wigan and Hull FC clash on Australian soil.
He and his England team-mate Scott Taylor, the Black and Whites prop, today visited the Wollongong venue for their historic Super League clash - ahead of the 100 day countdown until the game, which starts on Thursday.
“First and foremost, both teams will be coming over here to win and hopefully carry on the good start to the season for ourselves,” O’Loughlin told the Sydney Morning Herald.
“It is also an opportunity to showcase what the Super League brings. There will be a few different eyes watching, some different people involved. That will be great for the Super League.”
The Wigan-Hull FC clash on February 10 will be in round two, and be first Super League fixture ever to be staged outside of Europe.
The rest of the league fixtures will be announced at 8am tomorrow morning.
Wigan’s round three fixture is expected to also be against Hull FC, but will be postponed until the international break later in the season as both clubs are remaining in Australia to face NRL opposition.
Wigan will face South Sydney and Hull FC take on St George Illawarra in a double-header at Allianz Stadium in Sydney.
And with a question-mark hanging over the World Club Challenge between Melbourne and Leeds, the event could take on greater significance.
“I’m expecting it to be a full-on game,” said O’Loughlin.
“The more times that sides from the Super League and the NRL compete, the better.
“Especially for the Super League sides, coming over here and testing ourselves, seeing where we are at when we come over.
“The [English] clubs are pushing boundaries, trying new things. We’ll be promoting that Hull and Wigan brand elsewhere, not just in the north of England. The relationships with Souths, the Dragons and the NSW government, they will only benefit both sides.”
Organisers predict more than 5,000 fans will travel from the UK for the games.
The events have been secured by the NSW Government’s tourism and major events agency, Destination NSW, in partnership with Wigan Warriors and Destination Wollongong.
Venues NSW chairman Christine McLaughlin said: “The NSW Government must be congratulated on securing these exciting rugby league games, which will showcase its stadium network.”
Souths no longer have ex-Warriors boss Michael Maguire at the helm, but there are familiar faces. The Burgess brothers - Sam, Tom and George - are still in their ranks, while former Super League chief Blake Solly is the Rabbitohs’ chief executive.
Solly was in charge when the Super-8s structure was introduced, the format which is currently being discussed by clubs and RFL chiefs amid suggestions of expansion, and possible franchising, in 2019.
“From 10,000 miles away it feels like it’s created some interest, around the Million Pound Game, the Grand Final was a sellout, so for lots of things it has been really good for the sport,” he said.
“Like lots of things there’s way to improve on it again, and that’s the job for them.
“But I think from the outset I always said the structure is not the key issue in the sport (in England).
“While it was introduced in 2015 and improved on what went before, it’s kind of window dressing.
“What’s the big thing for the sport? And that’s to get the Super League clubs bigger. The focus has to be on making the top level is stronger, and keep the grassroots well-funded.”