Zak Hardaker hopes Wigan Warriors will have some unlikely fans cheering them on as they face Sydney Roosters in this weekend’s World Club Challenge.
The full-back believes even the deepest of Super League rivalries will be set aside as the 2018 champions face off against their Australian counterparts at the DW Stadium.
The likes of St Helens are normally on-pitch enemies for Warriors but when it comes to Anglo-Aussie rivalry, the World Club Challenge provides a change of heart.
Hardaker does not expect many players to say it publicly but when it comes to beating their southern hemisphere counterparts, domestic grudges fall by the wayside.
“You don’t want to be looked upon as the worse competition or the lesser grade,” said the 27-year-old.
“You want to put Super League on the map. Whenever I’ve not been playing in World Club Challenges I’ve wanted the Super League team to beat the Aussies.
“You want the bragging rights and I’m sure most clubs and quite a lot of players will be behind us. Not publicly, but I know some of the boys will be wanting us to win.”
Hardaker has top end pedigree in the competition – playing twice for Leeds Rhinos with a record of one win and one defeat.
He knows these stellar fixtures are won on fine margins and he believes the home fans could make all the difference
The DW Stadium will be packed with fervent support for the Warriors, who Hardaker signed for last year.
He said: “I’ve not played in a massive game like this for Wigan, especially at the DW Stadium – so I’m really looking forward to it.
“It’s going to be packed out – those are the whispers I have heard. Playing against the best is something I always want to do and I’m going to get that chance on Sunday.
“The fans could be a massive part to play. I hope they all come out in numbers and get on the Aussie boys’ backs.
“Hopefully it can put them off because it’s going to be a really difficult game.”
One man who knows all about the strengths of the Roosters, and the NRL as a whole, is Wigan’s Tommy Leuluai.
The New Zealand international, 33, spent three years in the Australian domestic game between his two spells at Warriors.
He believes the depth of quality players is higher in the NRL but backs his team to be able to match the Roosters on Sunday.
Leuluai has seen the Wigan squad up their intensity this week ahead of their fixture.
They head into the match with mixed form after a 22-12 defeat against St Helens and a 34-16 win against Leeds in their opening two Super League matches of 2019.
Warriors have will have had nine days to prepare for the clash with the Australian outfit – and Leuluai thinks they are ready.
“There’s no doubt there is a bit more to it,” he added.
“A build up like this adds to it and you know going into the game the intensity of the fans is going to be amped up.
“Preparation wise we try to as much as we can the same but you can see in training there is more intensity, from the coaches too.”
Wigan Warriors take on the Sydney Roosters in World Club Challenge as the world’s two best rugby league sides go head-to-head at the DW Stadium on Sunday February 17th, kick-off 7pm. Secure your seat today by calling the DW Stadium ticket office on 01942 311111 or visiting https://wiganwarriors.com/tickets.
By Connor McLoughlin