ALTHOUGH all the action takes place 10,500 miles away here in New South Wales, Hull FC head coach Lee Radford hopes it is back in his home city where the club’s historic tour will have the most lasting effect.
Ahead of Saturday’s game against Wigan Warriors in Wollongong – the first Super League fixture to be played in Australia – he fully realises it is a significant step in spreading the word about the competition.
Furthermore, when the Black and Whites also take on St George-Illawarra in Sydney a week later, Radford knows it is a perfect opportunity to showcase what the East Yorkshire club are all about against NRL opponents.
Destination New South Wales and Destination Wollongong, meanwhile, have organised a series of events to ensure players from Ladbrokes Challenge Cup holders Hull, Wigan and St George-Illawarra – the local NRL club – get out and have a major presence in the surrounding communities during the fortnight-long trip.
This will see them, for example, visit around 40 schools, feature in a major rugby league junior development day and also meet-and-greet supporters at various fans events.
However, talking to The Yorkshire Post from their training base in Kiama, Radford admitted: “I hope this tour has a real knock-on effect, not just here but in Hull, too. Participation levels are down hugely in the amateur game, not just there but in the UK in general.
“If you look at the Sport England stats, in the last 10 years it has dropped by 40 per cent.
“For us to be doing well with FC naturally has a knock-on effect to how many kids pick up a ball in Hull and play rugby league.
“That’s something I’m really conscious of and something we can effect in a positive way.
“But my initial feelings when I was first asked about this trip happening was excitement.
The really intriguing challenge is how we go against a top-end NRL club in St George.Hull FC coach, Lee Radford
“Obviously, there’s pros and cons with the fixtures. They changed slightly as we were due to have a free week when we came back because of the World Club Series planned back home, which would have been ideal.
“But the landscape changed a little with Leeds Rhinos coming out here to Melbourne instead.
“Looking at it as a whole, though, the pros outweighed the cons massively for me and it’s a great challenge.
“It’s a challenge for me as a coach, for the strength and conditioning staff – getting the players’ bodies, sleep plans and recovery right – but it’s also a huge challenge for the squad to go face an unbelievable team in Wigan.
“Then the really intriguing challenge is how we go against a top-end NRL club in St George.”
Radford explained that Hull are also using this fortnight to expose their squad to new training expertise from other sports.
“I watch every game of every round of the NRL and I also watch the New South Wales Cup and every Queensland Cup game as well so I am a geeky anorak when it comes to Australian rugby league,” he admitted. “Personally, to get around some of the clubs here is great, but the AFL clubs as well.
“We’ve got some specific coaches coming in that probably aren’t accessible in England – kick-and-catch coaches from the AFL, hand-eye coaches from cricket, wrestling coaches – and it will be good for the players to hear a different voice.
“But it’s also good for me to see a different way of doing things. It’s a learning curve for me as a coach.
“We’re very cloak-and-dagger in the UK in terms of rugby league and what everyone is doing different so I’m enjoying getting to see different things here. I’m picking a lot of brains.”
Although familiar opponents Wigan are up first, Radford says he is also relishing the chance to take on Australian opponents for the first time in his burgeoning coaching career.
As part of the Bradford Bulls side that defeated Penrith Panthers in the 2004 World Club Challenge at Huddersfield, he has some experience of bringing an NRL side to their knees.
But this is a different challenge for the 38-year-old who, of course, has guided Hull to back-to-back Wembley triumphs.
“St George have got a really, really strong squad with James Graham and Ben Hunt going there this season and I’m looking forward to the individual match-ups,” said Radford, whose side won their opening league game against Huddersfield last Thursday before flying out to Sydney.
“I’m also looking forward to the contrast in styles, too; how does the NRL style compare to a Super League style?
“Can we adapt to the conditions, going from throwing slop about outside to a quick, dry track here?
“But I think we’re a quick dry-track team so I am looking forward to it.”
Dave Craven in Australia with Hull FC, in association with Ladbrokes.com