Inside The Deal: How Wigan Warriors tied down Bevan French to long-term contract

Aaron Bower

As Wigan Warriors were celebrating becoming champions of the world in February, Kris Radlinski is open enough to admit there was another thought crossing his mind.

He had not only just watched his beloved Warriors win the World Club Challenge, but he had witnessed a masterclass from Bevan French – at a time when the entire rugby league world was watching Wigan defeat the NRL’s all-conquering champions, Penrith Panthers.

“I was very nervous that night, as well as obviously ecstatic about the result,” Radlinski tells Love Rugby League. Talks had already begun with French about a new deal beyond the end of this season, but still some distance away from being completed: underlined by the fact the contract was only announced on Wednesday this week.

“Against Penrith too – they’re losing Jarome Luai next year.. so that’s the last team I wanted him to play well against! He’d done it against the best the NRL had to offer and the rest of the NRL were watching. I’ve no doubt there were calls at that point.”

But Radlinski and Wigan were adamant they would not panic at any stage. Negotiations were drawn out over several weeks, even pre-dating the World Club Challenge.

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“Our fanbase thought this was the time he would go, probably,” Radlinski admits. “I’m delighted to get it done in that regard. Sometimes when you hear a bit of outside noise and you hear all kinds of rumours you tend to react a little nervously but we’ve been patient, held our nerve and we spoke to each other all the way through. I can’t fault him for the way he’s been.”

Wigan were adamant they wanted to keep French long-term, and French was adamant he would repay Wigan for the loyalty they showed in him during his early days at the club as personal problems and injuries mounted by giving them first crack at his signature.

“In his first year here, we had to be really patient with Bevan because of the situation with his family,” Radlinski explains. “All along, he’s said the support we gave him in that part of his life was invaluable. We could have asked him to come back earlier and demanded a bit more and he’ll tell you the story that his mum said, ‘you’ve got to repay these guys’.”

Selling French a compelling vision for the long-term future of the club was also key. With close friend Jai Field tied down in January and Matt Peet plus his coaching staff following suit last month, the talks with French were sweetened by the news of Peet’s seven-year contract, with French of the belief Peet has brought the best out of him.

“We’re too professional to think that just because his mate’s signed in Jai, he’ll sign,” Radlinski says.

“If you could listen to some of the things internally we’re trying to do, and the things we’re trying to do when it comes trying to grow the profile of the sport, it does all add up to a vision which I guess Bevan liked.

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“The worst thing we can do as a sport is tread water and think everything is right. We’re challenging ourselves to think a little bit different.

“The game has challenged completely in the last decade or so. It’s shifted away from that military feeling of ‘eat this, drink this, do this’. Matt spends more time sat on the floor with them in the day talking to them about life. It isn’t just about rugby league anymore, it’s about a place where you want to be. Bevan has bought into that.”

By the time French’s contract ends at the conclusion of the 2028 season, he will have been at Wigan for ten seasons. It is, as Radlinski admits, a remarkable commitment from a player who is now unlikely to return to the NRL if he fulfils his new contract, given how he will be almost 33 by that point.

And Radlinski is in no doubt that French will be considered among the Warriors’ all-time greats by the time his spell at the DW Stadium comes to an end.

“By the time this four years are up he’ll have done close to a decade and not many come over and give so much on and off the field like he has,” Radlinski says.

“Think about his highlights package now, and we’re going to almost double that in terms of time. You’re moving to a Martin Offiah or Jason Robinson standard, which is legendary. I’m pleased for the club we got this done, and delighted for the fans because they get to enjoy a brilliant player for a prolonged period of time.”

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