Why Wigan chief will be supporting St Helens this weekend

James Gordon
Kris Radlinski.

Photo courtesy of Wigan Warriors

They played against each other in the same position for the fiercest of rivals and now they’re serving those same two clubs with distinction off the pitch.

Kris Radlinski, now Wigan chief executive, and St Helens coach Paul Wellens are two of the greatest full-backs to grace Super League

Both one club men, they are the sort of heroes that rugby league and sport in general should be built on.

Radlinski, now 46, is four years Wellens’ senior and so had the Great Britain full-back jersey in his possession by the time the Saints man achieved international honours. That meant Wellens had to prove his versatility on the international stage, playing at wing and centre.

They developed a friendship as international team-mates, with a club rivalry full of respect which is still evident today.

Both players scooped the Harry Sunderland and Lance Todd trophies during their playing days, with Wellens also winning Man of Steel.

Radlinski was unfortunately forced in to early retirement due to injury at the age of 29, making a famous brief return to play for free months later in 2006, before bowing out with 313 appearances for the Warriors, three league titles and a Challenge Cup under his belt.

Wellens retired in 2015, after scoring 1,005 points in 495 appearances for Saints, before joining the club’s coaching staff and serving as assistant to previous head coaches Justin Holbrook and Kristian Woolf.

He’s taken the top job for 2023 and his first competitive game in charge will be a mouth-watering clash with NRL champions Penrith Panthers in Saturday’s World Club Challenge.

For Radlinski, coaching was never on the agenda, but he has instead built a career as the key man at the helm at Wigan, recently moving from executive director to chief executive.

Kris Radlinski on World Club Challenge

Radlinski said: “Ironically I never wanted to go into coaching because I wanted to live a bit and go home and relax. And then now I’m in this job, which is all consuming! The game has been good to me. I love it. I’m passionate about it and I’m passionate about its future.

“Wello is one of those friendships in sport where he’ll be the guy you look back and say we’ve had some of the best times of our life together. When he got the job, we had a chat about that and he’ll do very well because he’s respected in the changing room.

“The players will want to play for him. If I was a Saints fan, I wouldn’t be worried that he’s inexperienced as a head coach, because he knows how to win games and how to get the best out of people. So we’ve got the challenge to try and get them. Saints will be ok with him in charge, don’t worry about that.”

It’s rare that Wigan have to take second billing in rugby league terms, but their Super League season opener against Hull KR on Saturday will be broadcast live on Channel 4 after Saints have done battle with Penrith.

The back-to-back NRL champions are heavy 1/10 favourites to continue the Australian clubs’ recent dominance of the World Club Challenge.

St Helens enter the game as 6/1 underdogs, a rarity in itself. Young star Jack Welsby said he can’t remember not being favourites going in to a game during his entire career to date.

“The players will want to play for him”

Radlinski added: “I think Penrith’s a daunting stadium and they’re a fantastic rugby league team. What I’ve liked about the build up to this particular game is that in the past, NRL clubs have used the word trial and they’ve not mentioned that at all this time. It’s very much a World Club Challenge game so that shows to me that they are taking it seriously.

“I know a few of their World Cup winning squad went back in a little bit earlier to prepare for the game, so they want to win it. It is a daunting task, but I think it’d be a fantastic game and I think a few people will underestimate St Helens.

“They are a fantastic, well drilled rugby team and it would be a great boost for our sport if they win.

“It will be a difficult challenge, but I’ll be a Saints fan on Saturday no doubt.”

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