This past Friday, Wigan Warriors was set to host Widnes Vikings at the DW Stadium, and the game was to be shown live on Sky Sports. Up until Thursday night, there seemed to be no issues surrounding the fixture, then Wigan opened a huge can of worms, that would send the rugby league community into a frenzy.
Wigan fans shouldn’t be surprised though, as it wouldn’t be a Super League season without a DW Stadium pitch issue.
It was just 25 hours before the game was to kick-off, that Wigan made the announcement that the game was to be postponed, due to the DW pitch not being able to handle two games in as many days. It had Wigan Warriors using it on Friday night, then Wigan Athletic was to play Nottingham Forrest on the Saturday afternoon. It was decided in a meeting between both Wigan club’s owners, Ian Lenagan and David Sharpe that it made sense to postpone the Warriors game.This was to take everyone at Wigan and Widnes by surprise. The most shocking part of this farcical chain of events was that Widnes where at no point apart of the discussion to postpone the game.
James Rule, CEO of Widnes Vikings, said: “At 6.30pm, I received a call from Kris Radlinski who informed me that Wigan Athletic and Ian Lenagan had agreed to the postponement of our fixture, due to the condition of their pitch and the importance of Wigan Athletic’s upcoming fixture.
As we have not been involved in any consultation prior to this announcement, we are unable to comment further at this stage. We will do so in due course.”
So, Widnes could not tell their fans or players, a day before the game was to take place, what was going on as they didn’t know themselves. It soon became clear that Wigan had no right to just postpone the game without real cause. The RFL got involved, and told Wigan to either play the game or run the risk of losing the two points.
Wigan and Widnes would talk well into the night, and try to come up with a way to sort this mess out. It was first mentioned that the game may be played on the Sunday at the DW Stadium. However, early on Friday morning, it was announced that the fixture was to be reversed, and played at the Select Security Stadium, with the same kick-off time, but not shown Live on Sky Sports. This meant that this was now a Widnes home game, and the game that was to be held at the Vikings later in the season, will now be a Wigan home game.
It was a complete and utter shambles.
Shortly after it was announced to be played at Widnes, the RFL made a short statement:
“Separately the Rugby Football League can confirm it will investigate the circumstances surrounding the postponement of the game by Wigan Warriors and any potential breach of the Rugby Football League Operational Rules.”
One of the worst things about this whole situation, was that it came just four days after Wigan had put our game in the headlines for the right reasons, by becoming World Champions. We had barely celebrated that high, and rugby league was yet again being talked about for the wrong reasons. It’s as if the World Club Challenge was forgotten about, and Wigan had gone from being on top of the world, to being six-feet under with this shambolic situation.
People may think this is going a bit too far, and I’m making more of it, than it was. But in fact, as a Wigan fan, I was embarrassed by this whole ordeal.
The handling of this from Wigan was just unacceptable. I really felt for the coaches and players of both sides, as they had prepared for the game all week, only to be told the night before that it’s not on. Then to wake up to the news that it was back on again. Their mind-set must have been all over the place. It’s credit to them that they managed to put on a great game of rugby.
Ground-sharing is a huge problem in our league. With Wigan, Hull and Huddersfield all having to share with their respective football sides. It doesn’t take an expert to realise that football must be played on a much better surface than rugby. However, this whole last minute, fixture reversal has not only proved to be costly for Wigan, but hugely embarrassing for the club and the sport.
I would just like to finish this by giving some real credit to Widnes and their staff for working tirelessly to host the game. I was at the game, and they did an unbelievable job, in such a short timeframe. To get the staff in to work on the pitch, bars, security, and turnstiles was great. To just get the stadium operational, and ready to host a Super League game, was superb.