Wigan is an interesting town. They reckon.
It’s part of Greater Manchester and — well — that’s pretty much all Wikipedia says about it. The fifth best thing to do in Wigan, according to Trip Advisor, is Gala Bingo. So I guess there’s that.
It also has a big mill engine and an AMF bowling centre, apparently, or what we in Sydney like to call “entertainment at Mascot”.
These “attractions” are all ranked in the top 12, by the way.
At this stage they aren’t squeezing onto the bucket list of places to see before I die — I have Wigan firmly behind Mogadishu and a Bangkok prison, because even the latter once had an elephant that played soccer with a person encased in a rattan ball.
What is interesting about Wigan is that its rugby league club is actually more popular than the soccer club. It’s a league town; one of the few in England that can lay claim to that fact, their fans among the most passionate in any sporting competition in the world.
So visiting Wiganers will have a field day in Sydney as they travel to watch their beloved Warriors face the Roosters in the World Club Challenge this Saturday — as will hawkers of SPF 50+ sunblock during the day.
We have a marvel of engineering in the Harbour Bridge, an architectural triumph in the Opera House and one of the worst strips in the world to visit in Kings Cross.
They can have an Australian beer that isn’t fucking Fosters, run into the occasional bogan, and watch some of the greatest talent ever assembled on a rugby league paddock potentially flog their beloved team.
There should be a good smattering of their fans across Allianz Stadium, and let’s face facts: they aren’t fucking Souths fans. So Roosters followers will likely welcome them with open arms in a celebration of rugby league not seen in this hemisphere for nearly 20 years.
It’s going to be a great damn night, and a chance for fans from both clubs to see players they may never see in person again: Sonny Bill Williams and Sean O’Loughlin.
Team for The World Club Challenge: Anthony Minichiello, Daniel Tupou, Michael Jennings, Mitchell Aubusson, Shaun Kenny-Dowall, James Maloney, Mitchell Pearce, Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, Jake Friend, Sam Moa, Boyd Cordner, Sonny Bill Williams, Frank-Paul Nuuausala. Bench: Daniel Mortimer, Aidan Guerra, Dylan Napa, Remi Casty, Kane Evans, Taane Milne, Kurt Kara.
Isaac Liu is out after suffering a knee injury in the Auckland Nines on Saturday, and Roger Tuivasa-Sheck has seemingly failed to prove his fitness for the club after suffering a broken leg in the Rugby league World Cup Final versus Australia 12 weeks ago.
Aside from those two injuries, the club will field a near-full strength squad on Saturday.
Shaun Kenny-Dowall moves to the wing with Mitchell Aubusson shiftin to the centres. Frank-Paul Nu’uasala has been named at lock with Aidan Guerra named on the bench; the reverse was true in the club’s 26-18 win over Manly in the Grand Final.
They’ve named an extended bench with Remi Casty, Kane Evans, Taane Milne and Kurt Kara set to make their first 13-a-side Roosters caps this weekend.
How they’ll play
With RTS out, the Roosters will likely revert to their deadly left-side attack that dominated the NRL last year. Michael Jennings and Daniel Tupou scored over 30 tries between them last year, and a full off-season together for the first time means the combination will be significantly sharper at this point of the season than it was when Jenko joined the club late in 2013.
You may remember a few bombed tries at the start of last year as Tupou had a habit of over-running on a Jenko break, leaving the centre to throw awkward flat balls at speed to a winger alongside him. But the combination was deadly towards the end of the season and they should start much better this time around.
Boyd Cordner will also likely revert to his preferred left-side second row spot, where last year he began to shred defences as the second player in the Roosters’ patented double-decoy play, as he was here for example:
The Roosters will have the benefit of heat and Sonny Bill Williams on their side too. No-one in the Wigan squad has nearly the same class as SBW and his offload should come to the forefront in this one — although Robbo may be tempted to use his interchange to give the superstar a rest with such a gruelling campaign ahead.
It’s forecast to rain on Saturday with a high of 23 degrees — and while the rain may suit the northern England squad, the heat and humidity most certainly won’t.
Squad for The World Club Challenge: 25 John Bateman, 1 Matty Bowen, 32 Joe Burgess, 2 Josh Charnley, 24 Tony Clubb, 17 Dom Crosby, 16 Gil Dudson, 12 Liam Farrell, 10 Ben Flower, 5 Anthony Gelling, 3 Darrell Goulding, 6 Blake Green, 14 Jack Hughes, 9 Michael McIlorum, 13 Sean O’Loughlin, 22 Eddy Pettybourne, 23 Dan Sarginson, 7 Matty Smith, 8 Scott Taylor.
They’ve lost last year’s fullback and resident superstar, Sam Tomkins, to the New Zealand Warriors. He’s been replaced in the 2014 squad by Matty Bowen, who Wigan supporters have already come to know as “Fatty” Bowen.
Not a good sign.
From their 2013 championship squad they’ve lost familiar names Gareth Hock, Lee Mossop and Pat Richards in addition to Tomkins, and fans are already expecting a long season for the reigning premiers.
Regardless, they still field some players whom many rank as among the best in the world.
Many experts have tipped Sean O’Loughlin would have been one of the better exports to the NRL the English game has produced, but he’s yet to make the jump to the sport’s best competition. Regardless, he’s athletic and tough, can run a line and is dangerous from 10 metres out, in a similar vein to how Boyd Cordner was towards the middle of the 2013 season.
Josh Charnley looks an awesome talent, with Aussie fans of the Super League hoping he’d be able to match up against RTS. He’s got size, strength, a real swerve and speed, and could cause problems for SKD out wide.
They’ve also signed former Souths back-rower Eddy Pettybourne and sport former NRL journeyman Blake Green at halfback — although neither are a match for their Roosters’ counterparts in this one.
The club has already played this season but were promptly thumped 24-8 by the Huddersfield Giants.
How they’ll play
Who the heck knows. I confess, I’m not a regular watcher of the English competition. I find it a bit disjointed and much less intense, but that’s not to say there isn’t talent in this squad.
They’ll run a lot of plays through Green and O’Loughlin, obviously, but they will struggle with the travel time and the humidity at Allianz.
Granted, they did pump the New Zealand Warriors’ B Grade squad 46-22, but that team sported the immortal Chad Townsend and not much else as they Auckland club focused on the Nines tournament being held at the same time.
But if they’ve done their research, they should spread it wide to the left, where Shaun Kenny-Dowall and Mitch Aubusson will be playing out of position. It was the Roosters’ major weakness last year and with RTS out it will be significantly weaker.
Josh Charnley, it appears, lines up on the other side of the field but needs to be watched at all times — especially because he’s capable of feats like this:
The Roosters’ kick-chase game needs to be on-song against him as well as against Bowen, who will be keen to atone for a shocker versus Huddersfield.
It’s pretty hard to predict anything else besides a 13+ scoreline in favour of the Roosters. They have the home field advantage, no injuries, the better squad and a climate they’re used to.
Wigan have lost too much class over the off-season and the Roosters are taking this game extremely seriously. That’s not to say Wigan won’t take it just as seriously, but if both match each other for intensity then talent and all the other factors will swing it in favour of the Bondi club.
Man of the match for mine will be Boyd Cordner. He’s back to his left-side spot and will want to start the year off with a bang after finsihing 2013 hobbled by various ailments. No club in the NRL could stop the double-decoy play when it was in full swing; stands to reason Wigan won’t be able to either, and Boyd could score a double in this one.
This is the year Boyd should make the leap from a star to a fully-fledged superstar. If he can stay injury free — at this stage, a big if — he should cement a spot in Origin if he hasn’t already. He’d be well on his way with a starring performance in this one.