Dave Craven: Why it is a WIN win situation Down Under

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OFFICIALS at the Steelers Leagues Club in Wollongong would never have imagined they would have 468 new members from areas of the north of England called Hull and Wigan.

However, that is the strange thing that has occurred since it was announced the two sides would play a Super League game next door at WIN Stadium in Wollongong.

Wish you were here: The WIN Stadium.

Wish you were here: The WIN Stadium.

Around 5,000 British supporters have descended on the Illawarra region just south of Sydney and roughly 10 per cent of those have signed up to gain all the benefits of being a member of the local club.

And why not?

Some of the sport’s great players have graced them before, whether in the age of Illawarra Steelers and St George or the Dragons that emerged when they united.

Indeed, all those who have gone on to represent the Kangaroos are enshrined on the pavement as you stroll up to the club, in a kind of ‘Hollywood Walk of Fame’ style.

Bob Lindner, who turned out for Castleford a few times, Steve ‘Blocker’ Roach, Garry Jack and the legendary Graeme Langlands, the ‘Immortal’ who sadly passed away last month.

Former Hull back-row Craig Fitzgibbon is there, as well, while Wigan have a familiar name or two among it all also.

As well as Trent Barrett, there is John Dorahy, one of Wollongong’s most famous sons, who led Wigan to a league and cup double in 1994, having made his mark as a player with both Hull KR and Halifax. What does he do now? The 63-year-old is deputy mayor of Wollongong, just another illustration of how rugby league is ingrained in this area.

It is such a good fit for showcasing Super League, not least as it is held at surely one of the most aesthetically pleasing grounds in all of sport.

Obviously, WIN Stadium may look like your standard, modern, run-of-the-mill stadium from one angle, but, change your angle slightly, and what a sight to behold.

There is an entire touchline stretch where all that lies is a hill, a rather famous grassy hill where rugby league fans can sit, watch games and have a beer. But more than that. Over the top of that hill is, quite literally, the beach.

If Destination Wollongong and New South Wales ever wonder if they were wise to invest in this concept – they will have their names on Wigan’s jerseys in 2018, having bankrolled the task of getting Wigan and Hull over – they should fear not.

This is because the place is already thriving with this English influx and anyone who watches the game, which is being beamed live across the world, will see images of that stadium on the beach and be immediately thinking, ‘I need to go watch a rugby league game there’.

Apparently, the close proximity to those golden sands has not always worked out too well for the club, mind; there are stories of players in years gone by heading off from training on jet-skis, much to the chagrin of concerned coaches.

There are hopes of a crowd of around 15,000 here on Saturday, which, with Hull and Wigan fans in such brilliant voice, would create a great atmosphere in that arena.

Even the Aussies themselves admit they do not always generate enough vocal support at games. Super League, with its greater attacking style and freedom of play, has a real chance to give any fans walking up to see what the fuss is about something to cheer.

Dave Craven is on tour with Hull FC in Australia in association with Ladbrokes.com