Peter Smith: Lessons must be learned from Wigan's '˜postponement' fiasco

ACCORDING TO a story in the classic 1990s rugby league book When Push Comes To Shove: 'It states in the Rugby League bye-laws that the secretary of the home team can call off a game if he thinks the field is unfit to play.'

Thursday, 2nd March 2017, 5:00 am
Updated Friday, 24th March 2017, 9:42 am
Joe Burgess scores his side's third try against Widnes.

The unattributed (but not particularly difficult to source) tale concerns a Hunslet game away to Rochdale Hornets during the harsh winter of 1963.

It continues: “On the Saturday morning I was up at Parkside, waiting for a call from the Rochdale Secretary.

“A man who was walking his dog on the cinder track shouted over to me ‘Is it on?’

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“‘I don’t know yet’, I shouted back. ‘It’s up to the home Secretary.’

“He was outraged. ‘Bloody Government! Are they sticking their noses into Rugby League now!’”

Perhaps Wigan can take a copy of said publication with them to Red Hall when – and if – asked to explain the farcical events of last week.

To recap, Wigan called off their home Betfred Super League clash with Widnes Vikings on Thursday evening, more than 24 hours before the scheduled kick-off, apparently without consulting either the opposition or Rugby Football League.

Wigan Athletic were due to take on Nottingham Forest at DW Stadium in the SkyBet Championship on Saturday afternoon and Warriors chairman Ian Lenegan said – with standing water on the field and bad weather predicted – the pitch would be unable to cope with two games in such a short space of time.

Widnes – who obviously did not relish the prospect of a midweek game later in the year – were not happy and the match did eventually go ahead on Friday night, but at Select Security Stadium and as a Vikings home fixture.

On the morning of the game fans, players and the media were unsure as to whether it would be on and if so, where it would be held.

That’s a situation sometimes expected in the lower reaches of the amateur game, but not in an elite, full-time competition.

Wigan will compensate Widnes for money lost due to the short-notice switch, but there is pressure on the governing body to punish Warriors for last week’s fiasco. The RFL have promised to “investigate the circumstances surrounding the postponement of the game by Wigan Warriors and any potential breach of the Rugby Football League Operational Rules”.

Rugby league has, yet again, emerged as a poor relation. Wigan, the newly-crowned world champions, are apparently are quite happy to play second fiddle to a second tier football club.

This isn’t an opportunity to kick Wigan, or the idea of shared stadiums, but if clubs are simply allowed to call games off on their own say-so, anarchy will result. Inevitably, the suspicion among the sport as a whole was Wigan did not fancy a potentially tricky tussle – against a team who won twice at DW Stadium last year – just five days after their World Club heroics.

But the fact they went to Widnes and won, 28-26 thanks to a late try after trailing 18-12 at the break, rather mitigates against that conspiracy theory.

On the other hand, pictures on social media of sprinklers being used at half-time of the football game hardly backed up the argument for calling Warriors’ game off because the pitch was waterlogged.

Whatever, rugby league was made to look second rate and the governing body was not entirely blameless. The entire situation could have been avoided if Wigan had been handed an away fixture last Friday or been asked to play on a different date.

Inevitably, there will be difficulties when different clubs in different sports share the same venue.

Wigan had to play a 2015 home Challenge Cup tie, against Hull KR, at Leigh and five years ago Salford’s final game of the season was switched to the same ‘neutral’ venue, because of a clash with Sale Rugby Union club, who also play at AJ Bell Stadium.

That meeting with Wakefield Trinity was memorable for the Salford fans’ chants of “we’re supposed to be at home”.

Five of the 12 Super League clubs now share a stadium with another sport and this sort of problem is going to occur more frequently, so Wigan and Widnes won’t be the only clubs keeping a close eye on the result of the RFL’s current investigation.