Rugby league as a whole has managed to shake off the pre-season blues which plagued the sport, with an interesting and entertaining start to Super League, British wins in the World Club Series, and the interest generated by the Siddal v Toronto Wolfpack Challenge Cup tie, among other things.
We owe our thanks to Wigan then for managing – whether intentionally or otherwise – to make rugby league look ridiculous again.
The newly-crowned World Champions had been due to play Widnes Vikings in Super League Round 2 at the DW Stadium on Friday night, but decided unilaterally, barely 24 hours before kick-off, to postpone the game. The following morning it was arranged that Widnes would host instead, and a few hours later the two teams did in fact meet, the Warriors posting a 28-26 victory.
This sequence of events was utterly bizarre, in a sport which has had more than its fair share of the bizarre. It was shameful, embarrassing and – in that favourite adjective of the sport’s online faithful – “a joke”.
It isn’t that a game was postponed. That can happen at any time due to adverse weather conditions such as swept the North last Thursday, or indeed for other reasons. It happened to West Hull in the second round of the Challenge Cup, and their tie with Thatto Heath took place seven days after the original fixture was scheduled.
As a supporter of a non-league football club who play on a pitch with drainage issues I’ve seen it happen more times than I care to remember. It can happen at sport’s very highest levels – a worse-than-usual Mancunian rainstorm a few months ago caused Manchester City’s Champions League tie with Borussia Monchengladbach to be postponed by 24 hours.
The issue then isn’t the postponement – it’s the way it was carried out. There was no pitch inspection. Wigan reportedly consulted neither the RFL, nor their opponents Widnes in reaching their decision.
This was unprofessional and discourteous in the extreme – not to mention a breach of operational rules. The Warriors will rightly face an RFL investigation for their actions. Arguably they should have faced the loss of two competition points – in the amateur game if one team refuses to play the game is automatically awarded to their opponents. Widnes reportedly explored that option with no success.
It makes matters worse that the one party consulted by Wigan were co-tenants Wigan Athletic. Ian Lenagan’s statement was shameless in its affirmation of this unfortunate fact: “With Wigan Athletic’s season at such a critical stage and after detailed discussions between myself and Wigan Athletic Chairman, David Sharpe, it was agreed that they need to play this fixture [v Nottingham Forest] more than we need to play ours.”
“Potential for the game to be moved to Sunday was discussed…” added Lenagan – but given that we now know that neither the RFL nor Widnes were spoken to, Lenagan’s thought about playing Sunday instead was dismissed by none other than Wigan Athletic – the Latics apparently so precious that the game not only couldn’t be played prior to their thrilling 0-0 draw with Nottingham Forest, it couldn’t be played afterwards either.
The circumstances may have been unfortunate – a game scheduled just five days after the World Club Challenge against Cronulla, the night before a Championship soccer game – but the issues raised could and should have been settled in a far more professional manner. Instead, thanks to its World Champion club, rugby league has been made to look ridiculous.
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