Dave Craven: Whisper it, but even Leeds fans should support Wigan today

Wigan Warriors down under.
Wigan Warriors down under.
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THERE was a time when everyone hated Wigan apart, that is, from the town’s rugby league-mad faithful.

It was no surprise. They won everything, didn’t give anyone else a chance and – while the rest were still training a couple of nights a week often on dimly-lit boggy pitches – they were fully embracing full-time professionalism and all that came with it long before Super League was even on the agenda.

Hanley, Edwards, Gregory, Lydon... the names just trip of the tongue like a litany of RL legends.

While the summer era saw many others catch up, and the likes of Leeds – with their moniker of the Rhinos – took centre stage, many supporters of the game still don’t really like the Cherry and Whites. Never have, never will. Too bolshy.

However, this morning, it is hard to imagine even the staunchest St Helens fan not getting behind the Wiganers as they embark on a bid for glory that would do so much for the British game.

Wigan, of course, are taking on the might of NRL champions Sydney Roosters but not, as is traditionally the case with the World Club Challenge, over here.

Instead, they have ventured over to Australia to fly the flag, the first time any British side has done so in 20 years and for a fixture that now potentially holds such great importance.

There has been plenty of discourse in recent years about expanding the WCC into more than just a one-off clash between the respective champions in the northern and southern hemispheres.

It is hoped it will grow into an event where the top three sides from the NRL and Super League go head-to-head and that is something RFL officials and the likes of Leeds chief executive Gary Hetherington – who will be in attendance at Sydney Football Stadium today – will certainly be pushing and advocating.

The first step has been taken as actually getting a Super League side over there had previously been problematic.

But now that has been done it is imperative Wigan perform and prove to the doubting Aussie public (and some of the NRL hierarchy) that there is merit in such a move, giving it the credibility it so requires.

Undoubtedly, Wigan have prepared well for the contest, incorporating a warm-up game against New Zealand Warriors into their build-up and, if captain Sean O’Loughlin shrugs off his injury concerns, they will remain confident of causing an upset. It would not be on the scale of that shock they caused back in 1994 when a Wigan side including Jason Robinson, Andy Farrell, Phil Clarke, Offiah and man-of-the-match Edwards stunned 54,000 Queenslanders into silence by defeating the revered Brisbane Broncos at Lang Park.

Alfie Langer, Steve Renouf, Glenn Lazarus, Wendall Sailor and the Walters brothers were all powerless to prevent defeat that night in a game that has rightly gone down in British rugby league folklore.

Ironically, England coach Steve McNamara, in his new position as Roosters’ assistant, will be using all his knowledge of the visitors to try and produce an Australian victory but it is more likely the venerable threats of the iconic Sonny Bill Williams, Anthony Minichiello and Michael Jennings will prove most worrying for Shaun Wane’s side.

On the back of Sam Burgess’s decision to switch to union, though, the WCC remains a real opportunity to create a vehicle for the high-profile, international standard contest rugby league’s leading players so desire.

Currently, it might not offer the same lure of union’s World Cup but, if Wigan can shine today, it could prove the genesis of something which might eventually make league’s stars think twice about abandoning the 13-man sport.

So, good luck to the Warriors.