Blazing a trail and drumming out a message to Australians

Wigan Warriors chairman Ian Lenagan: Global call.
Wigan Warriors chairman Ian Lenagan: Global call.
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AS SOMEONE who has never been afraid to speak his mind, it should be no surprise that Wigan Warriors owner Ian Lenagan does not think twice about saying rugby league in Australia needs to stop being so “parochial.”

He is actually in their own backyard – or a balcony overlooking one of Wollongong’s fine beaches, to be more precise – but it matters not to him.

With the Australian media present, Lenagan knows full well this message will find its mark.

Ahead of and during the fund-raising dinner for his club’s legendary former player Brett Kenny, he is in full attacking mode. (Rugby union is “dull” as well).

Warriors, of course, are the driving force behind the first Super League game being played in the southern hemisphere when they face Hull FC at Wollongong’s WIN Stadium this morning.

They have agreed to take their ‘home’ game on the road and, with the financial muscle of Destination Wollongong and Destination New South Wales backing them, you can appreciate why.

Asked to sum up what they hope to achieve, Lenagan said: “Wigan has a very proud heritage.

“It’s about telling rugby league in Australia to not be so parochial. Our game should be the best international game in the world and they have to play their part in that.

“International club rugby league could be so big and let’s look at that instead of State of Origin.

“That’s an important message for us to bring to Australia by coming here.”

Lenagan is, no doubt, set to cross paths with NRL chief executive Todd Greenberg, either today or at some point in the build-up to next Saturday’s international double-header.

Then, Hull face St George-Illawarra before Wigan – reigning World Club champions as he repeatedly reminds anyone who will listen – tackle Sam Burgess’s South Sydney.

But Lenagan, an erudite individual who has supported his home-town club for more than 50 years, is not cowed in any way.

“Todd Greenberg is well aware of the vision from the UK,” he said, Wigan, like many, tired of the World Club Series continually being diminished by the NRL’s lack of appetite.

“Our willingness to come here shows that we believe in the concept. We wouldn’t be here if we didn’t think there was merit to all of this.

“I look forward to conversations with the NRL but this week was about Wollongong and achieving what we said we would do in the community here.”

Is there any chance the NRL could even take one of their games over to the UK, Super League presumably having stolen a march on them in this instance?

“There are always politics in sport as I know as I am chairman of the Football League as well as being the owner of Wigan,” continued Lenagan.

“That would be nice to take an NRL game in the UK, particularly in London where we took one of our home games.

“If you look at the Aussie Rules game, that sport builds itself extremely well. The NRL, just like the Super League in England, needs to get a little smarter with what we do.

“It’s the most attractive game. The Six Nations is massive at international level but you watch that and it’s dull. League is much faster and is a family game and has the right family values.

“But as long as we sit in our own back yard and don’t promote it then it won’t reach its potential.”

It will be intriguing to see if other Super League chairman are as innovative as Lenagan in the future and look to take one of their games as far afield.

He added: “Chairman are never willing to speculate and take a risk. But we are taking that risk. I think the chairmen are watching it on Saturday and seeing what the ancillary benefits are.

“We will soon see whether the financial benefits are significant. How many people turn up next week at ANZ Stadium will be important.

“You would normally get 25,000 for South Sydney v St George but as we have two other teams and a double-header, we are hoping we can do better than that.

“If it proves to be a success, other chairmen will want to be involved.

“Even if they don’t, we will certainly be back, that’s for sure.”