Rugby league fans in London; get set for some explosive, top-shelf action this weekend. Wigan Warriors will be taking on the Catalan Dragons in their Super 8s encounter at The Den, down in Millwall – both teams with their sights on the 2015 Super League Grand Final.
For expat Aussie and Kiwi NRL footy fans it’s a unique opportunity to come face to face with the very best of the game in the Northern Hemisphere, right here in the Capital, and is not to be missed. Here’s why:
1: The NRL superstars
The Super League is chock-full of former NRL greats and the clash at The Den sure has its fair share. It’s a superb chance to catch some Aussie and Kiwi superstars sweating and hitting it out.
Lining up for Wigan Warriors is fullback Mathew Bowen. Matty, of course, has pulled on a jumper for the Kangaroos and the Queensland Origin side, as well as setting a record for most games with his former NRL team, the Cowboys. He was club and Rugby League Professionals Association’s Player of the Year player in 2007. Bowen moved to Wigan in 2014 where he notched up his 300th career game this season.
On the roster at Catalan Dragons are none other the headline grabbing Todd Carney, centre Willy Tonga and front-rower Jeff Lima.
Ah yes, Todd Carney. So gifted on the field, so bad off it. Since winning the Dally M Medal in 2010, Australian rugby league’s highest honour, Carney’s public fall from grace was spectacular and well documented.
So far, so good at his new home with the Dragons in France, though, where they love him. And his prowess with the footy has never been in question.
Willy Tonga is also another former successful Kangaroo and Maroon, before a string of injuries with the Parramatta Eels jeopardised his career.
Since joining Catalan in 2015 his has regained his verve, notching up 7 tries so far this season despite another injury setback in June.
A Kiwi and Samoa international rep, fans will recall Jeff Lima being part of Melbourne Storm team that took out the 2007 and 2009 NRL grand finals. He was also a vital cog in the 2014 champion South Sydney team. A bit of a journeyman, Lima is also a former Wigan player, so some old friends are sure to give him a warm welcome.
2: Wigan Warriors: one of THE great teams
Hailing from Greater Manchester, the Wigan Warriors are the world’s most successful rugby league team.
One of the original break-away teams from rugby union in 1895 to establish rugby league as we know it today, Wigan have won 20 League Championships (including three Super League Grand Finals), 19 Challenge Cups and three World Club Challenge trophies against the best from Down Under.
The Warriors were runners-up in the 2014 Super League Grand Final and are desperate to go one better this year, to put themselves back at the pinnacle.
3: Anything can happen in exciting Super 8s
Unlike the NRL, towards the business end of the season the Super League goes into Super 8s mode. The top eight clubs* on the ladder go forward to play each other once more for a place in the top four play-offs, leading to the Grand Final.
Wigan finished third in regular season but have shifted up to second with five wins out of six going into Saturday’s encounter. Catalan were eighth but have moved up to seventh. Wigan have the form but in their two encounters this season, the Dragons smashed the Warriors 58 – 16 at their French home in May while Wigan racked up an emphatic 34-0 triumph on their own home turf in April. London is basically neutral soil for these teams, so anything could happen.
*Spare a thought for the bottom four clubs who go into their own Super 8 series against the best of the lower division in a fight to stave of relegation. It makes for exciting footy, though.
4: We just don’t get enough great footy in London
Despite their best efforts, the London Broncos just couldn’t match it in the Super League and have been relegated from the top flight. So, all the best footy action these days takes place ‘up North’ in England’s rugby league heartland.
The game on Saturday marks a return to the Capital for high class rugby league fixtures and the city’s fans, especially NRL starved expats, could not be happier.
5: Have them come back
All things going well, word on the street is that Wigan Warriors could make the journey to London a more regular occurrence in future Super League seasons. So, if you are a die-hard rugby league fan or just miss some proper hard footy in an otherwise soccer dominated city, get on down to The Den this Saturday and show your support.
Wigan Warriors face Catalans Dragons in the Super League Super 8s at The Den, Millwall on Saturday 5th September.
Tickets for the game are available from the DW Stadium Ticket Office, on the Ticket Hotline 0871 6633 552, and here online.