Ahead of today’s historic game where Wigan will host the first ever Super League game outside of Europe we spoke with Warriors Executive Director Kris Radlinski.
This has been a long time coming hasn’t it? When was the first meeting?
“The original idea came after we won the competition in 2016. We would have liked to have played the World Club Challenge against Cronulla in Australia but we couldn’t quite turn around the planning in time. It was always our intention to return to Australia after the success of our game against the Roosters in 2014 and also after consulting our fans who were overwhelmingly in favour of such a trip. A few things fell lucky for us and the cancellation of the Auckland 9s ultimately allowed this trip to take place. We then got the backing of Super League and the NRL and we then approached Hull who snapped our hands off.”
How did it all come to fruition?
“Our Commercial Sales Manager Dan Burton has extensive knowledge of the NRL having worked in Auckland with New Zealand Warriors. His knowledge of regional and state governments and in helping them realise their objectives was the main reason that we pulled this off. Through his contacts, he managed to position us as a tourism partner with Destination New South Wales and Destination Wollongong. This then opened many doors. We were then talking about economic development, trade missions and exchange programmes. The Financial Times ran a story about how a sports club could make a significant impact in the post-Brexit economy. Not bad for a little town in the North of England.”
How many miles do you think you’ve travelled arranging this tour?
“This will be our fifth time out here in a year, you can only do so much over email. Much of what we do from a commercial point of view is about building relationships. Once people see and feel our passion, then we can get them on the journey with us. I am lucky that this sport has allowed me to travel and meet wonderful people. Wollongong actually feels like home.”
Who has been involved in the organisation of the tour?
“We have a pretty small team who have worked long hours over different time zones to pull this off. In the UK, it has been myself, Dan (Burton), Paul (Macleod), Tim (Fisher), Paul (Stanworth), Geoff (Warburton) and Stewart (Frodsham) who have worked on sales, sponsorship, marketing, TV and retail. Dan in particular deserves a special mention for the tenacity in getting this deal off the ground. Also, our Chairman has shown great faith in his team. It has brought us all closer together and I look forward in having a beer with everyone when this project has been completed. We should be pretty proud of ourselves.
“There has been a tremendous team of people working with us over in New South Wales too. It’s literally impossible to name everyone but there’s a few names I feel we ought to mention.
“The Lord Mayor Councillor Gordon Bradbery, Councillor and former Wigan Coach John Dorahy and everyone at Wollongong City Council have been great supporters of the tour. Mark Sleigh, Jeremy Wilshire and everyone at our partners Destination Wollongong, Steve Keogh and the team at Destination New South Wales – they’ve all worked overtime on this. Greg Sleigh, Arthur Stanley and everyone at ANZ Stadium along with Marc Swan and the team at WIN Stadium. Steve Savic (Novotel), Julian O’Brien (Illawarra Mercury), Sharron Arrow and Bobby Millward at the Steelers Club. The guys at the other three clubs- Hull FC, South Sydney Rabbitohs and St George Illawarra Dragons and everyone at Super League and the NRL.
“Like I said, too many to list everyone but believe me we are so grateful for their help and support over this last year.”
There must have been several challenges, what’s been the biggest one?
“The detail that we have had to go into may have got lost on some people. Many folk think we are just rocking up with two teams to play a game of rugby. In essence, we have been given the keys to two stadiums and then left to fill them. Groundboards, advertising, hospitality, pre-match, post-match, programme writing, ticket sales and so much more! It’s all been done by our small team at Wigan. We are the promoters of these events. If it’s a failure, then we have nobody to blame but ourselves. In hindsight, there are things that we could have done differently but we could not have worked any harder. This will not be the end of our overseas adventures.”
Why did you choose to partner with Hull?
“They are a Club with many great things happening. They have a great owner in Adam Pearson who we have worked with very well at Super League meetings, a passionate coach in Lee Radford, very similar to our own head coach, and a fanatical fan base. It was 100% the right decision. Executive Director James Clark has worked his socks off on the project and deserves special praise.”
Would you do it all again?
“We have learned so much along the way. In the early days at contract signing stage, Dan and I worked non-stop for three days living off room service and learning law online! I remember being on the balcony at the hotel in Coogee at 4am in the morning talking through the details with my Chairman a few hours before signing the deal. We then spent a surreal and stressful day in the wonderful Sydney Harbour overlooking the bridge and the opera house. At one point we thought the deal was going to fall down, six hours later, we got the deal done. We had managed to keep it relatively quiet for months and then in the taxi from the harbour to our hotel in Coogee, a twenty-minute journey, the news had been leaked and a front cover of the newspaper the following day had been sent to us. We then stayed up all night with our team back in England who did an incredible job managing the announcement on such short notice. Would we do it again? Absolutely- throughout our history, we have been trailblazers. People will be talking about this for many years.”
The Wigan Warriors and Hull F.C games in Wollongong and Sydney have been secured exclusively by the NSW Government via its tourism and major events agency, Destination NSW, in partnership with Destination Wollongong.