World Club Challenge – Sydney Roosters vs Wigan Warriors

This match took place on 22nd Feb 2014 in Sydney, Australia at the Allianz Stadium.

It was between the Sydney Roosters of the National Rugby League (NRL, Australasian or Oceania) and the Wigan Warriors of Super League (SL, United Kingdom, well the North, plus London and Catalan).

This match too place a week ago (even by my standards this is a late blog) so I doubt I’m spoiling for anybody when I say the Roosters won 36-14 and hence this isn’t a review of the match as such.

It too place in front of an official attendance of 31,515.

Of that total it is a given that approximately 3,000+ of those were Wigan fans who had travelled from the UK plus a few other fans of Rugby League, me being one of them.

I am a Leigh Centurions fan, you could say there is a local rivalry with Wigan, which is now based solely on geography rather than any kind of competitive/divisional nature.

Most sports fans will (and should) know of Wigan (Warriors), an English team that has created dynastical (if that is a word) reigns in its sport on more than one occasion.

Most people in the UK should know of Wigan, the place, being mainly full of pies.

Q: What is a Wigan kebab?

A: 3 pies on a stick.

Et cetera, Ad nauseam.

I feel less people know of Leigh. Apart from the Rugby League team and a handful of good pubs (The Allgates White Lion being the stand out) it is more recently known as the largest town in the UK without its own railway station (this could be wrong, it could just be local propaganda).

Leigh used to be connected to Manchester via train. Now it is only buses, and a continually increasing number of operators, making a day saver less valuable by the day.

No, the powers that be have now seen fit to destroy the A580 (East-Lancs) by putting in a trivial “guided-bus way” which, if you tow the “nimby” line, will serve nothing whatsoever except to be another traffic control measure, when they aren’t also imposing ridiculous speed limits because by the numerous kids that are killed on the road because they are too stupid to use the elevated walkways.

Lobby is a stew basically; lobby, stew, hot-pot, hash – all of which should be on sale at any good beer festival (hey, call it a tagine, goulash or Stroganoff and charge twice the price)

Lobby Gobblers is the name given to a Leyther, Pie-Eaters are from Wigan.

Q: Why do people from Leigh only eat Lobby?

A: Because they can’t afford the pastry for the pies.

(Of course historically the pastry was only to carry/protect the meat when it was taken somewhere like a mining pit or cotton mill, but it is still affectionate banter).

Anyway, I’m not here to give my own poorly formed historical knowledge of the Wigan/Leigh area, I’m here for the Rugby.

Me, Mr. Anonymity decided to make himself well enough known by going to this match (and a few social gatherings) in his Leigh top.

Leigh
Leigh

I’m a fan of Rugby League (and I really don’t understand the draw of Union) and I always wish to go to Australia, so hence the weaving of these events.

I got some odd looks when I said I was going to Sydney for 6 nights. All that way for 6 nights?

All that way for 6 nights in the same city is the way I look at it. Some crazy bastards went for the 80 minutes, flew in and out just to watch a match – now that is nuts, and also commendable loyalty.

Some fans had been on their own tour, watching more rugby, or staying later to catch a few NRL matches.

The planes I caught had a noticeable Wigan contingent, the return planes less so.

The whole of Sydney had a noticeable Wigan contingent, like bus drivers you nod in acknowledgement as you pass each other and maybe broach conversation when in a pub (yes, even I tried talking to strangers).

The main night was Friday when I would say a good 500+ Wigan fans descended on the King Street Brew House for a get together.

To keep with the alcohol theme of this blog, a review of King Street Brewhouse will follow, but suffice to they brew their own beer on site, I just got the feeling most fans were drinking Miller Genuine Draft (bottle or on tap). But I like a MGD now and again, but this time I was on their stout.

The mood was jovial and bouncy all night, even the staff at the bar were taking photos of the fans chanting and singing.

Some Roosters fans turned up, it was still light-hearted and good-natured.

Some fans were quietly confident of a Wigan win, most weren’t.

It all seemed to depend on the fitness of one Wigan player:

Oh Sean O’Loughlin, you are the love of my life
Oh Sean O’Loughlin, I’d let you shag my wife
Oh Sean O’Loughlin…
…I want curly hair too…

(to the tune of Can’t Take My Eyes Off You)

A walk out of Sydney to the Darlinghurst/Paddington area takes in a few pubs. Only two were of note:

One was The Local Taphouse and this really needs and will get its own write up. I went in there for a few pre-stadium visit looseners and then went for a stroll to and around the Stadium and the adjoining cricket ground (SCG). Not a soul was about. Well a small handful.

Stadium ~1500
Stadium ~1500

As I walked back to the pubs that is when I noticed the Wigan shirts, strolling about, climbing out of taxis.

The other pub, the one nearest the ground, was taken over unsurprisingly again, by chanting and exuberant Wigan fans was called the Captain Cook Hotel.

I got the distinct feeling that this pub isn’t massively loud and busy on regular match days, the bar staff and the door staff certainly seemed taken aback with the amount of custom they were getting. Regular pub with the “”craft”” beers I’ll explain more about in another review.

After a few drinks there, I walked back to the Taphouse for a few more drinks, and then on to the match…

Stadium ~1800
Stadium ~1800

Having to walk around the whole perimeter of the stadium to get to our entrance was a swine, but on days and holidays like these you don’t mutter much about all the walking you do, helps you lose the excess beer calories.

Stadium
Stadium

Sorry for the disappointing photo, I was trying out the apparent ‘panorama’ function on my phone and never cracked it, I shall blame booze – I only managed to figure it out on the penultimate day of the holiday.

Now I am lead to believe that NRL is a bit of a religion in Australia. Lets be honest, what are the Aussies good at sports wise?

Rugby League.
Rugby Union.
Cricket (debatable if it is a sport).
Swimming.
Aussie Rules, which no one else plays.

Their stadiums are big for Rugby League and there is obviously a massive following, so what happened around match day was nothing short of staggering.

Being an English Rugby League fan I except (as we all do) that, in the eyes of TV broadcasters, we are minority sport, trumped by the all-conquering football and the baffling popularity of Rugby Union.

You could suggest that the bias of Union teams in the South and League teams in the North makes the reason why London centric media focus most on Union, maybe that is it, but it is probably too simplistic and not something I can go in to.

The Rugby League World Cup in 2013 was very well attended, the BBC doing its best to show some matches.

The League structure in the UK is again under-going a renovation, back to promotion/relegation, you know, to actually give teams and fans something to play for.

The Championship Cup (which Leigh are the current holders of) will not take place this year because of no sponsorship and with the promotion to SL only starting in 2015 this means that, with the exception of the Challenge Cup, all non-SL teams play for pride – something they have done since the formation of Super League really.

In short, Rugby League, especially those in charge, have seen their grasp exceed the reach far too many times. Constant tinkering and restructuring and a seeming need to keep-up-with-the-Joneses has seen clubs fold and the lower end and at the upper end face constant financial woes, the most well publicised being Bradford Bulls.

I can’t speak with out ‘lower league bias’ I suppose, but grass-roots has been neglected for too long and the roosters (no pun) come back to roost.

I remember going to Hilton Park and there being a regular 1500 people there, which sometimes swelled to 4000+ when they went on a cup run. Success breeds following which increases revenue which should increase success and so the cycle goes on.

But anyway, English Rugby League has its own problems, so surely we could learn a thing or two from the Aussie model?

No programmes.

What the fuck?

No fucking Programmes?

Yep, if you staple say 20-30 pages of team news, advertising and banter together people will buy them as a memento.

Charge anything up to $30 (the exchange rate was over 2:1, people will pay £15 for a one-off booklet) and the 3,000+ Wigan fans (and I’m sure Roosters fans too) will pay it and you’ve made $90,000.

But no.

No programmes, no match balls, no commemorative shirts. Nothing, except a blue cone with a French car manufacturer on it.

Apparently promotion for the match was also lacking.

Earlier that day their version of the Charity Shield took place between the South Sydney Rabbitohs and the St George Illawarra Dragons, in front of about 14,000 people.

The chance to ‘make a day’ of it was lost – I heard that the NRL like The Magic Weekend that the SL run (and which I also go to).

I also get the feeling, given the size of the country, that away support isn’t all that good. The Roosters fans certainly seemed over-whelmed with the vocal minority that were the Wigan fans, with only typical Aussie bravado, and the eventual score-line giving them anything to cheer about.

Walking back after the match, in a bit of a drizzle, through the massively gay area with its GAyTM’s and the gayest gays I’ve seen in a long time, which may have been in contrast with all the rather down Rugby fans I was walking back with, I was left wondering if the future could hold a continual and more permanent joining of the Aussie and England teams?

If Wigan played away again could they get another 3,000 people coming over or was this a once in a lifetime trip?

Whimsically, could teams with similar names play each other?

Who would Leigh play?

You a Doggies fan?

What?

Go Bulldogs?

Troggies, you’ve come along way, eh, it says Leigh on it, where is that?

I ask you, does the Leigh away top look anything like any of these Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs tops?

Bulldogs
Bulldogs

Why are pies so popular in Sydney?

Pie Face
Pie Face

The above is a pie, not a Wigan fan.

And with that I’m off to the Wigan Beer Festival…

My reviews of Sydney and their beers will follow…

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