Gareth Ellis delighted as Hull FC join Wigan Warriors in taking groundbreaking stride into Australia

HULL FC captain Gareth Ellis believes their groundbreaking 2018 game against Wigan Warriors in Australia will help Super League finally earn the 'full respect' of the NRL.

Hull FC captain Gareth Ellis

The clubs face each other at WIN Stadium in Wollongong on Saturday 10 February – the first time the competition has ever held a fixture outside of Europe – before travelling to Sydney for a double-header a week later.

Wigan, the World Club champions, will face Sam Burgess’ South Sydney before Hull play St George Illawarra Dragons later the same day as part of a three-week tour.

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The historic initiative is driven by Wigan chairman Ian Lenagan who has traditionally strived to build his club’s brand and forge new business links with similar innovative moves.

Gareth Ellis and Hull FC are headed to Australia next February. (Picture: Alex Whitehead/SWpix.com)

Indeed, it is their ‘home’ Super League game that is subsequently sacrificed but Hull are keen to work with them to sell the brand on the other side of the world.

The Australian game has, traditionally, looked down on the domestic competition here as veteran back-row Ellis can attest having played with Wests Tigers in Sydney for four years.

Asked if the NRL need to witness such a fixture to see Super League at its best, the former England international told The Yorkshire Post: “Yes, without a doubt.

“Probably the one thing we have never achieved is that we don’t quite get the full respect of the NRL. Because it is such a big competition and it is ahead of our game they do see us as a bit of a second-rate competition.

Gareth Ellis and Hull FC are headed to Australia next February. (Picture: Alex Whitehead/SWpix.com)

“So for us to showcase ourselves in a proper competitive match against each other I think will be massive for the game in Australia but also the game on a world stage, too.”

Furthermore, it will serve as added incentive for Ellis as he seeks to earn a new deal for 2018.

The 36-year-old is out of contract at the end of the season and only made his Super League return from a three-month injury lay-off in Friday’s win over Huddersfield Giants.

However, he was named man-of-the-match and will lead his side out against former club Leeds Rhinos in Saturday’s Challenge Cup semi-final as the holders look to defend the trophy he lifted for them last August.

Although at times during his sternum injury he contemplated retiring at the end of the year, Ellis said he now felt he had “a new lease of life” following his return. If he continues to feel as fresh, the club are expected to discuss extending the his stay into a sixth season.

On the prospect of returning to New South Wales in Hull FC colours, Ellis admitted: “That would be added motivation.

“It’d be another one of those where you think of all the opportunities, things achieved and memories made in your career and that would be one of them – something different that not many people get the opportunity to do.”

The game is the second week of Super League and both clubs have confirmed they will return to the UK in time for the World Club Challenge or Series the following week if either qualifies.

Hull chairman Adam Pearson added: “This is a landmark occasion for the sport of rugby league and an opportunity for Hull FC to play our part in making Super League history.

“Two of the competition’s most high-profile and best-supported clubs will have the opportunity to promote Super League on a global scale, as well as developing solid and long-term international links with tourism stakeholders in New South Wales and Wollongong, another heartland of rugby league.”

Lenagan described the announcement as “one of the most innovative and exciting in the history of our club.”

Super League executive director Roger Draper believes it will engage “an international fanbase, showcasing the vital role sport plays in the global economy and growing the Betfred Super League brand.”

Super 8s fixtures: Page 18