On the scoreboard Hull FC were on the wrong side of it, but Super League history was made in Wollongong – the first ever game in the competition played outside of the European continent.
Australia’s picturesque WIN Stadium was the host, and what a venue it was. Stood on the hill on a hot Aussie summer evening with a beer in your hand isn’t a bad way to spend a Saturday night. Ground breaking was the phrase used by many to describe it, and as far as expansionism goes, a 12,416 attendance with around 9,000 locals can be considered a decent feat for a first project of its kind.
And let’s hope there’s many more events like this to come, from Australia, to the USA, to mainland Europe, as it can only be a beneficiary to a sport and competition that is crying out for some exposure beyond its traditional heartlands. But amongst all that, there’s also an argument that this venture wasn’t necessary to do with expansion at all, and instead on two clubs’ right to focus on their own brand and image – something that is a big ticked box if the reaction in the Illawarra region is anything to go by.
Wigan and Hull were both brave enough to take on this challenge, and reap the rewards solely as a twosome from it. There’s nothing wrong with that too. Many will question why this fixture was played in Australia – with the obvious cynics suggesting that a well-known footy heartland would do little to increase exposure to the game we all know and love. That may well be true, but it does wonders for promoting the Super League competition itself, not to mention the two clubs in question.
Rugby League in the U.K has issues. There’s falling participation numbers at junior levels, we have a governing body loathed by every fan and player that dares to speak his or her mind, and a competition sold short, and seeming to be held to be little more than a soap opera, by the broadcaster that currently screens it.
So with that in mind, you can surely understand why the two clubs went fishing – or so to speak. The world is getting smaller and smaller and in this day and age you have to try new things out. The NFL in America do it time and time again and regular sell out Wembley Stadium for its fixtures. We’ve got to aspire to that, and I don’t care whether that’s in New South Wales, Denver, or Timbuktu. Anything that exposes the Super League competition and in particular my club Hull FC to a new market is absolutely fine by me. That brings me to the game itself, and whilst it wasn’t a classic, it certainly had its moments.
Obviously for us Hull FC fans it wasn’t the best result, but we came up against a Wigan side who look, and yes I know we’re only in February, a bloody good outfit. Their shape was excellent, and they moved the ball superbly. As an avid footy fan, watching George Williams produce a performance like that is what you pay your money for. He was absolutely outstanding. Sam Tomkins was also terrific and it can only be good for the game to see him back to something of his former pre-NRL self. Then there’s Liam Marshall, and what a fantastic young talent he is – pace to burn and a genuine threat to any opposition he comes up against. Big fan of fellow teenage winger, Tom Davies, on the other flank, too.
Though for the Black and Whites it couldn’t have got much worse. To lose Bureta Faraimo so early in the game was a massive blow. That brought a complete reshuffle of the line up as Hull had no back on the bench to replace him. And then things were made even tougher when captain Danny Houghton limped off with a calf injury. That completely screwed up the interchange plan, with Hull’s middles forced to play longer minutes and ultimately fatigue quicker as a result. That was the harsh reality of it, but that doesn’t take credit away from Wigan. As soon as Faraimo went off they exploited the situation, with Marhsall scoring two quick fire tries. Game management. They’ve got an abundance of it.
Hull heroically went on to keep the Warriors at bay, and managed to level through two scores of their own. Fetuli Talanoa spectacularly finished airborne, before Jordan Abdull got on the end of a superb team try. That showcased the spirit in the FC camp, but games against Wigan are always tough, and so it proved, despite the efforts of a quite freakish and courageous performance from Sika Manu, not to mention notable efforts from Josh Griffin and Dean Hadley.
Though despite the grit, a Tomkins penalty goal put Wigan ahead again, and they expertly closed the game out after the break, adding to the scoreboard with a try each for props Ryan Sutton and Ben Flower. Truth be told, Hull did well to reduce further tries, and they should be satisfied with their efforts given the circumstances that unfolded.
Ultimately it could be a costly night. We’ll wait and see the results of Houghton and Faraimo, but one will also wonder on the fortune of Liam Watts, Mark Minichiello and Jake Connor, who all took knocks during the game. It was a tough night at the office, and really a bittersweet occasion. The result wasn’t ideal, and the more concerning aspect will be the treatment table, but the experience itself in ‘the Gong’ was unreal.
WIN Stadium is an absolutely incredible venue, and if any of you are like me and have further aspirations to once again visit Australia, then put it on your bucket list. It won’t disappoint.
Wigan Starting XIII: 1. Sam Tomkins, 2. Tom Davies, 3. Dan Sarginson, 4. Oliver Gildart, 22. Liam Marshall, 6. George Williams, 7. Sam Powell. 8. Tony Clubb, 9. Thomas Leuluai, 10. Ben Flower, 11. Joel Tomkins, 12. Liam Farrell, 13. Sean O’Loughlin. Interchange: 15. Ryan Sutton, 17. Taulima Tautai, 19. Willie Isa, 20. Morgan Escare.
Wigan Tries: Marshall 2, Sutton, Flower. Goals: Tomkins 4/5
Hull Starting XIII: 1. Jamie Shaul, 2. Bureta Faraimo, 14. Jake Connor, 4. Josh Griffin, 5. Fetuli Talanoa, 6. Albert Kelly, 7. Marc Sneyd, 8. Scott Taylor, 9. Danny Houghton, 23. Mickey Paea, 21. Sika Manu, 12. Mark Minichiello, 13. Josh Bowden. Interchange: 10. Liam Watts, 11. Dean Hadley, 16. Jordan Abdull, 17. Danny Washbrook.
Hull Tries: Talanoa, Abdull. Goals: Sneyd 1/2
Hull 3-2-1 Man of the Match: 3pts Sika Manu, 2pts Josh Griffin, 1pt Dean Hadley
Scoring System: 6-0, 10-10, 10-4, 10-10, 12-10, HT, 18-10, 24-10
Referee: Matt Cecchin
Great to meet Hull FC expat, UTC writer and fly catcher Rich Harrison at last – our man on all things NRL and Australia!