Not since Cronulla Sharks arrived in town have I looked forward to a game at the DW Stadium as much!
It’s not that I’m looking forward to tonight’s match with Leeds, though it should be intriguing for several reasons.
No. It’s that for nearly two months, Wigan have been on the road.
Shaun Wane hasn’t used the run as an excuse for a wobble in form – “The coaches we have are the dogs, they are five-star, they have Sky, the players are well fed, they’re looked after...
it’s not as if they’re mixing concrete or digging holes,” he said.
Which was great to hear.
But this block of matches has been costly for fans, and it’s great to get back home (on a new hybrid pitch, no less).
I’m excited to see what Joe Greenwood brings in his debut. I’m predicting Leeds to be better than their six-match losing run suggests.
And I’m expecting a great spectacle at a sun-kissed stadium in front of fans as happy as me to be back at home!
A tip of the hat to Wigan, too. Rather than pretend the game doesn’t clash with England-Belgium, they are showing the first-half on a big-screen in a fans’ village complete with stalls and gin bar.
A gin bar in rugby league? What a mad, rapidly-changing world we live in!
Dave Donaghy, the chief executive of Melbourne Storm, took to Twitter this week to defend the NRL club’s stance on the mid-season Test in Denver.
A reminder, in case you’ve been living under a rock, England beat New Zealand in front of nearly 20,000 fans in America last Saturday.
Donaghy was angry one of the Storm’s player’s return was delayed by flight problems in the Star Spangled Land of the Free, but said it was “rubbish” to suggest international rugby league is being killed by NRL clubs.
“Just get the scheduling right,” he tweeted. “Same outcomes can be achieved by playing in US at end-season. Why not Eng v Fra in Origin week? #commonsense.”
It wasn’t ‘Origin week’, but rather a representative weekend, which also saw PNG, Samoa, Fiji and Tonga play, as well as a women’s Origin match. The ideal time, no, for England and New Zealand to play?
Several pointed out that at the end of the season, the NFL season is up and running.
And as for England v France mid-season as a solution? That would leave the NRL-based England players with an even longer trip back afterwards!
But I’m not unsympathetic.
He runs a club, he wants his club’s best players on board.
I get that.
And I hope, rather than using hashtagged posts on social media, mature talks take place to try and overcome some of these problems in the future.
Next time, maybe New Zealand should fly back on the night of the game – like England’s players did – rather than wait 24 hours. Of course, the chances of another electrical storm hitting at the same time next year would, literally, be lightning striking twice... but best to give some wriggle room.
And maybe, the NRL – and Super League – could schedule their fixtures so the clubs likely to have most representatives don’t play the following Thursday or Friday. That, to me, would be common sense.
There was so much I enjoyed about last Saturday’s Test.
The time-slot, the quirkiness, the tries. The new setting, the comeback, even the botched anthems.
A few people were critical of the size of the crowd – 19,320.
But that was more than 1,000 more than watched England’s mid-season Test with Samoa in Sydney a year ago. Indeed, mentioning Sydney, the last time Australia played a Test there, they only pulled in a few hundred more than the Denver attendance!
Any regular readers know it is a course of irritation that rugby league has lost its cool nicknames.
The days when backs were called Chariots and The Pearl and forwards were named Cement and The Brick With Eyes are long gone.
And when Frank-Paul the Wrecking Ball disappeared, I thought Wigan had been robbed of the man with the best nickname, even if it seemed inappropriate.
But no. I don’t know who first called Gabriel Hamlin by the name ‘The Hammer’, but it’s catching on.
Wigan are using it, radio commentators are using it, fans are using it, and I’m reporting it – The Hammer has arrived!
Was history made last Saturday?
Sean O’Loughlin captained England’s league team on the same day his nephew, Owen Farrell, led out the nation’s union team!
Both went to St John Fisher High School and played their junior rugby at St Pat’s, too!