From Wollongong to Barcelona: 7 surprising places Super League games have been played

Ben Olawumi
Catalans Dragons, Wigan Warriors, Hull FC, Bradford Bulls, London Broncos

2019: Catalans Dragons v Wigan Warriors at Camp Nou (Left), 2018: Wigan Warriors v Hull FC in Wollongong (top right) & 2001: London Broncos v Bradford Bulls in Leicester (bottom right)

Hull KR have announced a pre-season friendly in Amsterdam with Championship outfit York for next year, and that got us thinking about the times rugby league has attempted to broaden its horizons in the past.

Of course, there have been too many to name. Games have popped up in unfamiliar venues on many, many an occasion.

Each year, we see Magic Weekend held, and this year will see the sixth different venue for that event in Elland Road – following on from the Millennium Stadium, Murrayfield, the Etihad Stadium, St James’ Park & Anfield.

Back in 2022, we also saw the Challenge Cup final switched from Wembley to the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.

And London Broncos, in particular, tend to move around quite a fair bit in terms of actual home venues.

But here, we take a look at seven times Super League games have been taken ‘on the road’, taking a walk down memory lane…

May 18, 2019: Catalans Dragons v Wigan Warriors – Camp Nou, Barcelona

Catalans Dragons v Wigan Warriors at Camp Nou
An action shot from Catalans Dragons v Wigan Warriors at Camp Nou in May 2019

It’s hard to believe it’s been five years now since the Dragons – riding high on a Challenge Cup triumph at Wembley the year prior – took a game to the Camp Nou.

31,555 were in attendance as they beat Wigan 33-16 at one of sport’s most iconic grounds, with around a quarter of that crowd believed to have bought tickets directly from FC Barcelona. To this day, it remains the highest-ever attendance at a Super League game barring Magic Weekends & Grand Finals.

IN PICTURES: Rugby league’s historic day at Camp Nou

February & March 2018: Leeds Rhinos at Elland Road, Leeds

This is the only inclusion on this list that has seen a Super League club temporarily move home, but we thought it was worth including. The Rhinos took two games at the start of 2018 across to Elland Road while Headingley was being redeveloped, beating Hull KR 20-11 before losing out 25-24 to Castleford Tigers the following month.

The Rhinos are no strangers to Elland Road having played at the home of Leeds United 18 times now in total, with a 19th – against Warrington Wolves – to come in August at Magic Weekend. Notably however, that 2018 clash with Castleford remains the club’s Super League record home attendance – with 23,246 watching on that day.

February 10, 2018: Wigan Warriors v Hull FC – Wollongong Showground, Australia

Wigan Warriors, Hull FC, Wollongong
Wigan Warriors (top) & Hull FC (bottom) line up ahead of their Super League clash in Wollongong in February 2018

The first-ever Super League game to be held outside of Europe saw Wigan & Hull fly over 12,000 miles to face one another on the South-East Coast of Australia in a Round 2 game. 12,416 spectators packed into the ‘WIN Stadium’ in the city of Wollongong to see a 24-10 win for the Warriors, the official ‘hosts’.

Both Super League sides played friendlies against teams from the NRL later that week before returning home, with Wigan beaten 18-8 by South Sydney Rabbitohs & Hull losing out 24-18 to St George Illawarra Dragons. The same week, in the actual World Club Challenge, Melbourne Storm hosted and beat Leeds Rhinos, 38-4 the scoreline in that game.

QUIZ: Can you name the 72 stadiums to have hosted a Super League game?

September 5, 2015: Wigan Warriors v Catalans Dragons – The Den, London

Four years prior to their meeting at the Camp Nou, Wigan & Catalans met at The Den, the home of EFL Championship outfit Millwall. This time around, the Warriors were the official hosts in a Super 8s clash with chief Kris Radlinski saying the club wanted to add to their presence in the capital at the time given their Challenge Cup success in London over the years.

The Cherry & Whites ran out 42-16 winners on the day with 8,101 in attendance. That was the first-ever rugby league game held at The Den, with the 13-a-side code yet to return there since.

June 20, 2009: Catalans Dragons v Warrington Wolves – Olympic Stadium, Barcelona

A decade before their Camp Nou experience, Catalans tested the waters in Barcelona when they hosted Warrington at the Olympic Stadium in the city, the ‘Estadi Olímpic Lluís Companys’ to give it its full name.

With the Dragons just three-and-a-half years into their Super League existence, the Round 17 clash attracted a crowd of 18,150, though those backing the French side were left disappointed having seen them beaten 24-12.

POWER RANKINGS: Warrington Wolves rise to summit, Keighley Cougars elevated following important win, Leigh Leopards newly involved

1999, 2001 & 2004: London Broncos at Welford Road, Leicester

We’ve already mentioned London and their tendency to move around a fair bit, but playing games over 100 miles away from the capital in Leicester wasn’t a necessity, and was in fact an effort to increase interest in the sport and club. The Broncos graced the field at Welford Road, the home of Premiership Rugby outfit Leicester Tigers, on three separate occasions.

Bradford were the opponents for the first two games there, with the Bulls winning 19-16 in July 1999 & 42-0 in June 2001. Those two Super League clashes attracted crowds of 8,233 & 5,259 respectively, but when London returned for a third time in June 2004 and were beaten 42-26 by Hull FC, the attendance dropped considerably to just 3,589.

Prior to that 2001 game against the Bulls, then-London chief Lionel Hurst spoke of ‘tremendous interest’ in rugby league in the area. Very few professional games in the sport have been played in Leicester since, though we do now have the Midlands Hurricanes competing in League 1, so who knows whether these games helped our cause in some small capacity?

July 10-26, 1998: Super League’s ‘On the Road’ Round

Gateshead International Stadium, Sixfields Stadium, Tynecastle, Arms Park, Vetch Field
The venues of Super League’s ‘On the Road’ Round in 1998 – Gateshead International Stadium (top left), Sixfields Stadium (top right), Tynecastle (bottom left), Arms Park (centre, bottom) & Vetch Field (bottom right)

Throwing it back to the third season of Super League to round things off and Round 14 that year, which saw an ‘On the Road’ round take place. Sort of like Magic Weekend, all 12 clubs were involved, but rather than every team playing at the same venue, the six games were scattered across the UK.

Who faced who was decided as the loop fixtures in place today are, by the  league positions from the season prior (1997). Two games were sent to Gateshead with Cardiff & Swansea getting one each – all three of those locations at the time had Super League franchise bids on the table.

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Elsewhere, the remaining two games were split one apiece between Edinburgh & Northampton, with the latter of those also having interest in forming a club at the time. The six games were played out over three separate weekends, with a three-week gap left in the schedule initially to avoid a clash with football’s World Cup in France.

Kicking things off on a damp Friday night, Leeds beat Salford – then known as Reds – 34-16 at the Gateshead International Stadium in front of a crowd of 4,122. Notably, Gateshead Thunder (now Newcastle) were to play their home games at that venue from the following year, and later this year, the club will temporarily return there.

Seven days later, Halifax – then under the ‘Blue Sox’ tagline – beat Sheffield Eagles 32-10 in Northampton. Played at Sixfields Stadium, the home of Northampton Town Football Club who now ply their trade in League One, only 3,087 watched that clash.

The following day up in Edinburgh at Tynecastle, the home of Scottish Premiership side Heart of Midlothian FC, over 4,000 Bradford supporters made the trip up to watch their side get beat 22-8 by London. 6,863 was the official attendance.

Back in Gateshead on Friday, July 24, Huddersfield were then beaten 21-10 by Hull – then under the ‘Sharks’ tagline – in front of 4,306 spectators. Huddersfield had sacked player-coach Garry Schofield earlier that week.

And for the final two games in the ‘On the Road’ round, Wales took centre stage. Cardiff was first up as 4,437 watched on at the Arms Park as Castleford beat Warrington 23-16.

Wigan v St Helens 1998
Wigan faced rivals St Helens four times across all competitions in 1998, winning all four meetings including their 36-2 success at Vetch Field

Unsurprisingly, the biggest crowd of the round came the following day in Swansea as Wigan faced off against bitter rivals St Helens. Vetch Field, Swansea City Football Club’s former home, was the venue with 8,572 in attendance. A 36-2 Warriors win was the fourth time they’d beaten their bitter rivals that year after one in the Challenge Cup & two in ‘regular’ league games.

John Monie’s side went on to claim their first title of the summer era later that year with victory over Leeds in the first-ever Grand Final.

Over 31,000 supporters watched a Super League game over the course of this ‘On the Road’ round with an average per game of 5,230.

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