Fans’ Forum: The first hour

Chairman Ian Lenagan and executive director Kris Radlinski hosted a Fans’ Forum at Robin Park Arena on Tuesday to talk all things Wigan Warriors. For the first hour of the Forum, both Lenagan and Radlinski discussed a number of points with 120 supporters in attendance…

Management

IL: So, we start off with management. Well, I carry the can for everything in the end, the Lenagan family does. We don’t get every decision right. I can look back at the last few years. I’m not going to detail those figures; you can read those on the fans’ forum. But the ones that we get wrong we’re sorry about. We don’t do it purposely. But if we can get 8/10 decisions right over a long period, we will do well and we’re nearer to nine than eight at the moment. If you look at the trophies that we won, we’ve done well over 14 years. It’s 14 years since I stood here at the Deanery with a first ever fans’ forum. And I’m quite pleased with what we’ve done in terms of the number of trophies that we’ve won, but it’s not easy. Obviously. None of it’s easy. 

Kris Radlinski

IL: I’ve got Kris Radlinski second on the list. Some people suggested we all have our flak jackets on this evening in terms of the questions. Yes, we want to listen to answers. Yes, we acknowledge that we make mistakes, but we get a lot of things right in terms of the way this Club is run, and how it’s going forward. And we hope to hear from you this evening both casually afterwards, as well as during the conversation about what you think and what you can add. I mentioned Kris Radlinski there because Kris has now done 10 years as chief executive at Wigan, under different titles from general manager to executive director – he’s the man who runs the Club, as chief exec. And last month’s Super League meeting, when he stood in for me because I was on holiday, he was congratulated by so many different clubs, for the quality of his contribution to how Super League is run. And I, if people were aware of the pride that we have in him now, as a chief exec as we had in him as a player, you would share that with me and have a great pleasure in it. It’s because the effort that Kris puts in and I put in is quite heavy as do the other directors who are here this evening to talk about it. So, we are here. We have no intention of going, certainly not in the short term, but you never know from a health viewpoint and all the rest of it. We are here and we carry on running this Club for as long as we possibly can. 

Mike Danson

IL: Mike Danson has been asked about on a number of occasions; Mike Danson has 25% of the shares in Wigan. I sold him those shares, probably a year and a half ago. Mike Danson is a very private man. He doesn’t want to appear anywhere. He is a Wigan fan of many long years standing who happens to be well off and wants to support his Club as much as he can. He doesn’t want to be involved in running it. He doesn’t want to be involved in selecting players or any of the other things that go with it. He is a silent shareholder, who’s a very, very nice man and I hope at some point in time you’ll see him as a fan. But we, the Lenagan family have 75% of the shares. Why is Mike there? Mike is there along with another man called Darryl Eales who you might not know but has 5% of my 75% though I control it. And those two people are there for a succession at some time in 5 or 10 years’ time, if it’s necessary. The Lenagan family are delighted in being involved in Wigan. They’ve been fans all their life. It’s no surprise that my two sons are here tonight, one of whom is in London, the other one in Oxford, and my sister. We are great supporters of Wigan. And I would like in the next 10, 20 years that Wigan carries on being owned by and run by the Lenagan family, but you have to have provision just in case. What happens if something goes wrong? Mike Danson and Darryl themselves are great people who believe in the same principles that we have in the way of running the Club. But I think they’ve been twice in the last two years here. They’re very content to leave me, Wayne Joyce, David Moore and Kris running the business and there’s nothing changing unless something different happens. 

Adrian Lam

IL: You’ll have seen the announcement. It pleases a lot of people. It doesn’t please other people. The selection of Adrian Lam was a decision that we made. And I don’t think it’s a mistake. I think in three years that he’s been at Wigan, he’s done a good job. He’s not done a great job. But he’s done a good job. We won the league leaders. We were a minute away from winning the Grand Final. But now is the time for him and for us to change. We changed when Brian Noble was here for two years. Michael Maguire two years, Shaun Wane seven years. Adrian’s been there for three years. So, Adrian now moves on. And we have to go through the process of selecting the next coach. How do we select the next coach? Well, we haven’t selected him yet. It’s not definite. There are all sorts of rumours around about that. But we have a choice of four different directions that we as Wigan could go in; we could go back to Shaun Wane obviously, we could select a person who’s on the staff currently, as an assistant coach, we could go to Australia, and look as we did with Michael Maguire (I spent four trips to Australia over a six-month period to find an Australian coach). And the final option of the four that we’ve got is to appoint a UK Head coach. So, we’re going through the process of those four choices. Right now, if you look at the history, I and the management group have only ever appointed five head coaches over the last 20 years. The first one of them in football, actually, who was a complete unknown assistant coach called Chris Wilder, who became the head coach of Oxford United when they’re in the conference and those of you who follow football will know that Chris Wilder has done rather well, so he was quite a good selection of head coach at that time. Then after that in Rugby League, I’ve appointed four head coaches. Every one of them has been an assistant coach, not an existing head coach. So, if you look back on it, Brian McDermott was the first who was an assistant coach of a number at Leeds and was appointed at Harlequins and has gone rather well. Michael Maguire, you don’t need to say any more about him doing well. Shaun Wane – seven years with a lot of trophies, even though some people wanted him to go at the end, did very well for us over that period. And finally, Adrian Lam. You’ll notice the common factor is that there are five coaches there who were not existing head coaches. So, we have a track record of some degree of success in that respect. That doesn’t mean to say we are going to appoint an assistant coach as the head coach because the decision has not been taken, nobody’s been appointed, nobody has got contract signed. But we felt the time was right for a change at this stage. Shaun Wane I’ve mentioned there, Shaun is the England head coach, we have a great degree of respect for Shaun, there is always the possibility at some time that Shaun will be back with Wigan, particularly not as head coach, because you don’t go back in that respect. But Shaun could easily have an involvement at Wigan in the future, he has a great degree of quality and talent that we accept and understand particularly in terms of coaching, but also in terms of a lot of business skills now that he didn’t have before but has gained in the meanwhile. 

Shaun Edwards

IL: The Shaun Edwards thing gets thrown at us time after time. I think it’s probably the time to say exactly what the position is, as far as Shaun was concerned. I’m going to hand on to Kris because Kris was heavily involved in it, though the decision was mine. 

KR: I spoke to Ian openly about this and I felt that we got our communications wrong with the Shaun Edwards thing. And the reason I felt so strongly about it was because Ian got the rough end of the stick, and we were not in a position where we defended ourselves, and we needed to defend ourselves. I understand why Ian didn’t want to get into a public spat with such an iconic figure and wonderful player for our Club. So, he probably did the respectable thing and said nothing, and I’ve been biting my tongue for a long time because I thought potentially that was the wrong thing to do. We were hearing rumours left, right and centre about him changing his mind but he never communicated these once with us. We learn these through different media agencies the same way that you guys that. And then also there were other excuses brought up along the way, excuses like no signed contract, not being allowed to pick his staff, wanting to stay in rugby union. There were reasons and factors behind all of them and we took them all on the chin. At the end, Shaun wasn’t even communicating with us. He asked us to leave him and not contact him during the Six Nations. But he was talking to the media, and we were not allowed to defend ourselves. I think we could have done that better. 

Shaun, and I had probably three long meetings where he would talk about the game and how he would implement things.  So, there’s the truth. Personally, I think he let the chairman down more than people know. And it’s been eating up at me, because Ian of all people didn’t deserve that. So that’s the truth.

IL: Sometimes it’s very difficult to tell the truth when you’re in a public position as we are. There are a lot of people involved in Wigan, asking about what went wrong with Shaun Edwards. One of the issues that was connected with that was a handshake. I’ve done deals in business for many, many years. Some of them are done on handshakes. Some of them are done on signed contracts. People sign contracts these days and at the time they intend to fulfil them. But the circumstances change so they change. Normally, if I’ve signed a contract with somebody of the integrity that I always believe Shaun had, you would have seen it happen, it didn’t in this particular case. And that’s unfortunate. He will still be a great icon to me. I like him still as a person. But I regret the fact that we didn’t have him as a Wigan coach. But I would like to put it to bed with what we’re saying here this evening, without putting it all out on media or elsewhere, I just want to get rid of it so we can move on to some of the decisions. 

Operational

IL: If we go into the operational environment now. Let’s talk about Covid financial pressures. People say why don’t you tell us the truth? Well, we’re telling you the truth here. Some of it is not very nice, I’m afraid. But the nice thing about it is that Wigan have survived through Covid. Through no attendances, we’ve been helped by the contribution from Season Ticket Holders and from furlough and lots of other things. If you look at our normal revenue of 7 million in the next two years, 19, 20 and 21, we’ve lost 4.2 million of our revenue. That’s what we’ve had to fill – that is a big gap to fill. And like many other Rugby League clubs and football clubs, to have survived, that is damn good going. Where does the funding come from? Well, being self-centred, 500,000 of ownership funding. That’s from us. You’ve also got 2 million that we take the loan on from Sport England. So, we are two and a half million pounds worse off because of what’s happened but delighted to be surviving with Wigan because that’s what we’ve all done. And the Season Ticket Holders equally, you can see what we’ve got from 450 grand from donations from Season Ticket Holders, that is superb to see to get us through that. From the government, we’ve got furlough. But if you look at the 2 million of funding that we’ve had to take from Sport England alone, from 2023 we are paying quarter of million pounds back every year. That comes straight off our wages bill. So, in terms of players that’s 250 grand a year for the next 10 years, as well as losing 200 grand a year in terms of the TV deal. So that’s the shortfall that Covid and TV are costing us. So, when people are saying, why can’t we spend more money on players? Well, you’ve immediately got 450 grand there, which is four / five players or two and a half marquee players. That’s what we’re facing. That’s why we haven’t rushed out to buy yet another expensive player because we can’t afford it. It’s as simple as that. So that’s the revenue income short, the shortfall and where the money’s come from. 

Financial performance

IL: In terms of financial performance, we’ve actually made a loss in the last two years of 2 million quid – that’s what goes out in the accounts, which is such a pity, because we were actually bringing our losses down. We lost I think it was one quarter million in 2019. And we’ve got it down to 200,000 in 2020 till Covid hit but that’s like so many families isn’t it? We were all well off until furlough, we were all well off until we lost the job or whatever. But these are the realities of where we are. So, if you look forward from that, the salary cap is another issue. We are, this year, 114,000 under the salary cap because we got the allowance for George Burgess because he’s not able to play. Otherwise, we would have had to not be able to do what we did do. In terms of 2022, with the players who we have announced that we signed, and that includes Iain Thornley as well. That’s the four new players and the players that we are retaining, we are currently 73 grand under our salary cap allowance. 

That doesn’t mean to say we’re not spending the salary cap, we’re spending well above the salary cap. But because we’ve got marquee players who only count as a certain level rather than what we pay them. That means that in terms of compliance, we are under the salary cap, we’re doing what you have to do. And I’ve always said, we’ll never break the salary cap. That’s not the integrity of a club like Wigan. So that’s what we’ve got left. So, when we look around at the moment and look at where we desperately need, for example, a number six if Jai Field isn’t the answer. And we hope he is, but if he isn’t the answer, that’s all we’ve got left at the moment. 

We took the view that signing prop forwards was rather more important in terms of next year and if somebody like Brad Singleton can perform as he did last night, where I thought he was clearly the Man of the Match from my viewpoint, if he together with the two Aussies who are 25-year olds, not at the end of their career, I think we could be in a good place from a forward’s viewpoint. When you look at Liam Farrell and John Bateman and various other people that we’ve got, I think that’s a good position. Finishing the salary, the financial stuff; debt. We owed just under 6 million. That’s what’s called a soft debt, because that debt is to the Lenegan family in this particular case. So, it’s not going to get called in like a bank might call it in, we have no bank debt in that respect. That’s the only debt. That will go up to just over eight and a half million in the next period, including the debt that we’re paying off to Sport England that we’ve had to guarantee. So that’s the reality of it. That’s not a threat to Wigan, provided we get back to decent attendances, we’ve got to get back to decent attendances.

What would you forecast at the moment? It is so difficult. David Moore, our finance director has had to forecast two different ways. The first forecast says, what happens if we get attendances back to where they were pre-Covid. And the other one says, what if they don’t. With either of those we can survive, but not easily. And the only place that you can save costs is on players. Unfortunately, at the moment, players wages are going up, not down. That’s the reality. They’re going up. Look at what we bid for George Williams, we offered George Williams the biggest ever contract that Wigan have ever had in 149 years. And somebody else paid more. That’s the scenario that we’re playing against. It’s very difficult, but they want their living do players, obviously, that’s where they are. So that’s it, I think in finances looking forward, what do we think is going to happen? Well, at the current moment, that said, if matchday attendances continue at the current levels, we lose just under 1 million. That has to come from somebody. And it will come from the Lenagan family, 75% and 25%, from the other shareholders. If the matchday attendance returned to where we are, we’re in a good place, we’re just going to make a small loss. So, when you look at, when people ask the question about why we don’t buy more players, or we’ve got to have salary cap left, because Jackson Hastings is leaving, there are two things you got to do. You got to stay compliant under the salary cap, first of all, and then secondly, you got to be able to afford it. And you can’t carry on making big losses. That’s just not way forward. Let me say that this is the case with almost every of the Rugby League club as well. We were commiserating with St Helens a couple of weeks ago, not on the field, unfortunately, they were commiserating with us at that time. But in terms of the financial position, it’s a difficult position and football is in even worse position. So that’s the reality of the finances. 

There’s nothing more than one can say our accounts are open accounts. We used to do shareholders meetings, but with Covid we’ve not been able to do it. We used to report to fans this way. And this is our opportunity to do it tonight. And if anybody would ever like to talk about these things, David Moore our finance director, Martin who’s our other accountant, Wayne Joyce in charge of operations, Kris or me, we’re always happy to talk about these things. It’s not a particularly good story at the moment, but we have survived. That’s the main thing we’ve survived. And all I’m asking is, please understand where we are, when we’re looking at signing players. It is very difficult. We’re looking for a number six for next year just in case, we’re talking about Tommy and whether or not Tommy goes around for another year or not. But it’s all about money. 

Covid pressures

IL: I don’t think you’re aware of the fact that that’s affected Wigan as well. It’s affected every family that’s around obviously, everybody’s been affected financially or in terms of deaths by Covid. And we’ve all shared it. Surviving through the last 18 months has been astonishingly difficult. And when I see as I have done recently, and you hear about office staff in tears because of the complaints they’re getting from the ticket office problems, and the rest of it, please understand, it’s hard. It is very, very hard at the moment. And we just ask people, please stay with us to get through this continuing difficult period, you never know, we might even, in the Play-Offs, do better than we expected. We quite often do at the end of the year, fingers crossed. I hope so. But it’s a difficult, difficult time.

Wigan Athletic and Insolvency 

KR: You will have seen that the new owner has made a visit to the town recently and made some claims about the stadium being a football stadium. The reality is it is. We’re tenants of the stadium and they’ve come in with new ownership with a with a new chief executive who I meet every week and I have a really good relationship. And they’ve made some bold claims that they’re going to turn the stadium blue and all this kind of stuff. We can’t do anything about that, unfortunately. So, we’ll be working strong to build our relationships and to try and work it through. They have said to us that our rent will be going up, which we’re working through at the moment. The negotiations are ongoing and they’re in the right spirit. We have spoken to the council to get them involved and made them aware of the situation. But it’s an ongoing situation that we need to need you to all be made aware of. 

We would suggest here that, again, keep this off social media because it may hinder negotiations moving forward. But we’re trying to build and maintain the relationships we’ve got there. Ian mentioned the insolvency situation, we were dealing with administrators for most of last year, so nothing to do with the football club. They had no ownership. We were dealing with a firm from Manchester, who would come in and were pretty ruthless with everything that they did. I would raise questions with them about ticket office, we’ve got a ticket office problem. Their response would be so what? We’re in administration. Yes, but we’ve paid for this service. So, what, we’re on administration? So, for the most of last year, we had no one to communicate with. During the process and the takeover of the football club, they have started to get to get the house in order and they put some good things in place. They put a new ticket office system in place which fell for us in the same way when everybody could reclaim their own seats, fell in the same time that season tickets went on sale for the football club, which again meant that we didn’t get priority, which was a difficult one for us to navigate through. 

As Ian’s mentioned, there’s been pressure on staffing and in the back office here. And also, the ticket office staff who were working on reduced capacity there. The pressures have been extreme. But these are ongoing, we’re continuing to talk to try and get a solution. But the reality is, it’s a very, very hard situation, which hinders long-term planning. So, when he is talking about how much we can spend on players, etc, we have to factor in increases in rent – it certainly as a burden. That’s obviously a bit of negative news, I will point out an error that that Ian made on his slide where it showed you was 73 grand on the salary cap left to spend. The good news Ian is I did factor in the reckoning that there is room there for to go and buy a half back and then the 73 grand on top. So that’s a bit of good news. But the challenges are real.

Sponsorship 

We’re trying to paint a rosy picture to attract new sponsors new investment into the sport, we’re in a situation where a couple of our sponsors due to Covid impacts on their businesses as well, who have failed to pay the last instalments. We’re down the road with legal action with a couple of them. But it’s just another issue which we’re dealing with. I made a comment to Ian the other day that obviously the team wasn’t playing well, and the team was losing. But that’s actually not in our top five problems at the minute when you consider the things that we have to navigate through from a business operational point of view and a financial point of view. Again, full transparency, it’s challenging times for us, but they’re the facts.

IL: Just adding to that in terms of Wigan Athletic and stadium and things, we put in three separate bids to buy the stadium more than it was eventually sold for and couldn’t buy it. We also worked very hard to try to do something jointly to take over Wigan Athletic but Wigan Warriors and Lenagan’s don’t want to own a football club. That is not what we want to do. And neither do any of the other two people that I’ve mentioned earlier – Mike Danson and Darryl Eales. So, our view is simple. Wigan Athletic is better owned by a separate entity and we should share the stadium and co-operate together. We actually went to the point of offering to buy the stadium and the training ground in order to make the training ground available free of charge to Wigan Athletic, and to have rental the normal way, as we have had for so many years. And we nearly got there. But in the end, the administrator was just a pain, and it never came through. Who knows what will happen in the future? The delicacy of finances of football clubs is even worse than with rugby clubs. We don’t wish insolvency again on Wigan Athletic, we want the strength of both clubs in the town. And that’s the right thing. In the same way we’ve looked at building outside here, taking 1000 seats up to 10 or 12,000 seats, because that would be a good size for us. But it’s 10 to 15 million pounds. That is not sensible to have two stadiums next to each other, it would make no sense at all. And the council are well aware of that. So, we’re working our way towards where we need to be. But we’re not there yet. 

Retail success

It’s nice to be able to say the shop downstairs and the quality of the materials that we’ve got with Hummel are superb. And retail sales are very good indeed. And we’re actually we’ve now solved all our supply problems that we had in the past where we never got jerseys in time for Christmas and all the rest of it. We know what we’re doing. And that’s a good success in that respect.

Crowds 

Before Covid and its threats to Rugby League, our attendances have been declining. That’s been a steady period since about 2014. And that’s a worry. And one of the things that Kris is particularly working on along with Martin McLoughlin our community head, is the issue of the younger people who we’ve got to have to replace the elderly breed, me included, who’ve been Season Ticket Holders for a long time. And that’s beginning to work rather well. The Leeds and St Helens games, to see between thousands of tickets being sold by the community for new tickets were superb. It really helped. And that is growing and growing. We’ve got a large amount of effort and quality going into the community operation. So that should go well. 

Rugby

KR: 2021 form. We’re not where we needed to be, I think. When we watched how we performed last night, that’s how we want it to be playing all season and I’m not hiding behind one game. One game against Castleford is not going to change our season, but it gives us an insight into what we were hoping to get at the start of the season. If you look at John Bateman, as Ian mentioned, Brad Singleton, Zak Hardaker, Jackson Hastings, Liam Farrell, competitive players, we thought we will be getting that all through the season. I don’t think that we’ve been able to field our strongest, strongest line-up all season. I’ll talk about a few of them a couple of the individuals in a minute, but I don’t believe the coach has had the strongest team to select from each week. Bevan French is on the list there. It’s no secret Bevan’s got a family situation at home, that we allowed him to stay in Australia for an extended period of time. I’ve reflected back on this on a number of occasions to see was that the right thing to do. And I firmly believe it was I think, we did the right thing by a human being. And we gave him that extended period. What that did do it meant that he came into the season completely underprepared to be brutally honest. He needed a good five or six weeks of more pre-season training and him to get his body right to play. So that’s a reflection of something that I believe we could have done better. I think he was probably selected a little bit early, four or five more weeks, and we might have been in a different position. The affect that that has on the spine on how we play rugby is an issue, we all know you’ve put Bevan French into any, any team he’s going to make a difference. Jackson Hastings, he obviously had an extended time at home as well. He also had a family situation which was which was very, very grave, and you will have seen that his grandfather sadly passed away this week. The difference with Jackson was that as Bevan was obviously just keeping his head down, Jackson was securing his next move. And Jackson has been completely open and honest with us all the way through that he will give everything to Wigan for this period of time. But a move home was what he wanted to do. And you know, the way that he commits himself to the Club, the way he trains every day and the way he plays his you know, he’s been a really, really strong player for us. But that’s the reason that Jackson had a bit of extended time as well. 

The effect that that has on the team where you’ve got two of our key players who were not involved in a lot of the pre-season preparation, in hindsight, a real effect on how we started, being brutally honest. Could we have done anything different? I’m unsure. We took a human approach and potentially it backfired a little bit with us. We started the season best ever. It’s about perspective – we won the League Leaders’ Shield just nine months ago, within a minute of winning the Grand Final. We got Super League Head Coach of the Year; we started the season with seven wins from seven. Adrian got the inaugural Head Coach of the Month, Zak Hardaker got the best player, and then we went to Catalans. Now I’ve been going to Catalans for 20 years and there’s always something wrong at Catalans, whether it’s something wrong with the travel, the chicken’s undercooked or the room’s too hot. On this occasion everything was absolutely perfect. It was the dream trip. And we reflected on it and we got beat 48-0. Within the last minute, Zak unfortunately loses his head, gets sent off which is unforgiveable and whilst Zak was serving his suspension, we discovered a bulging disc in his neck. So, he then went on to miss eight weeks. I’m not trying to make excuses here by the way, and this is all about factors and things that have not allowed us to get to have a good smooth run. We had Liam Marshall return from a long-term injury and Oliver Gildart was the same. He secured his dream move to the NRL having fulfilled his contractual obligations with us. Oliver’s done everything right there. But he again he made it clear that he wants to, try his luck out there. That’s fine. 

George Burgess

KR: When George first came to us, he was met with universal praise. This is the kind of bloke we need to be signing. Truth be known, he turned up a bit overweight, and we worked him hard. He openly admitted that it was his toughest pre-season ever. And during that period, we probably did a little bit more damage to his body. And in his efforts to remove some of the weight, he got a hip injury, which required very, very invasive surgery which he has now had. When we decided that we needed to terminate George’s contract we have to say that he did the right thing by the Club there. He could have gone down a different route, but he did the right thing by the Club. And I think it actually helps us and helps you guys understand that the fact he’s gone on to secure an NRL contract means is not a crock, I want him to go there and I want him to play well, and it will prove that he’s a good player and he’s got life in him. We could have done things a little bit differently at the start, and we have to reflect on that and think how we could have managed him better. So that’s one on us. 

John Bateman

KR: I arrived at the game with Castleford last night and Ian said to me what’s this John Bateman stuff NRL. I’ve not heard anything about it. John Bateman’s girlfriend went on to tweet last night that she’d not heard anything about it either. This is how it works, and this is something that Ian and I have to deal with on a regular basis. We can’t respond to every single rumour out there. All I will tell you is I had an hour-long conversation with John last week where we’re talking about life after rugby and and businesses that he’s looking into setting up now. John has been superb since he come back. Probably not hitting the form yet but I thought last night again, he’s showing he’s on his way back there. So, there’s nothing in that rumour.

Zak Hardaker

KR: There was a social media rumour that he met with Castleford. So, I went straight to the source. I spoke to Lee Radford. Lee Radford said to me directly, well, unless Zak’s in Spain because that’s where I am at the moment, I’ve not met with him. So, I went to the Castleford director, absolutely nothing in it and then I went to Zak directly and said, what’s this? Have you met with anybody, he said no, I’ve not met with anybody at all. 

But you will have seen that Zak has moved back to Yorkshire. That is due to a rental house that he was renting, believe it or not from Joel Tomkins who he headbutted at Catalans, came to an end and Zak had to move back to Yorkshire. He has said to us that he is finding the travelling difficult which he would, we all know the M62, and his partner would like to move back to Yorkshire. 

This is a very live situation over the last week, with my last meeting with him this morning and we’re just talking it through. I made it very clear that everything’s on Wigan’s terms here. The Club and me personally have invested a hell of a lot of time into Zak and we gave him an opportunity when nobody else would. Laying it all on the table, that’s where we are at the moment in time. And it’s very live. 

George Williams

KR: We’ve been talking to George for around about eight weeks and we put an offer together, which was the biggest ever contract in 149 years. And he phoned me up and said it’s the hardest decision I’ll ever have to make, and I’ve been dreading doing it. But I feel as though I just want something different. He probably got a few more quid as well. But I stand by that if a player doesn’t want to be here, then where do we go? We could have forced things through. We had a legal document. Warrington saw the legal documents. And then it was a conversation that he and Ian had, and he said, well, do we want a lad who doesn’t want to be here? Where will that take us two weeks in and he’s not doing things right. So, we made a decision that that we wish George well, I thought we did it with tremendous humility. George’s partner is about to give birth, and we did the right thing by the human being again. We saw last night just just what George can do, he is a terrific young player, someone who we’ve known since he was 14 years of age. So, it’s a sad one that he’s not coming back to us, where we would have gained advantage on our salary cap, because he would have been a homegrown marquee player, he would have only gone on salary cap as 75 grand which is where you get the benefits if you develop these kinds of players. 

Young players 

KR: This is probably a little bit of education – we offer a traditional contract when a player comes to the end of his Academy contract; it’s a two-year contract with a one-year option. Most players get that kind of deal. After that third year, we then have a choice to make. Do we let them go or do we pay them what they what they should be paid on an open market. These players have all got managers now and the managers are trying to get the best for them. We’ve opted to pay them what they’re worth. So, if you look at the likes of Ethan Havard, Liam Byrne, Morgan Smithies, Oliver Partington. We’ve chosen to keep them on and develop them more so in two to three to four years’ time, they’ll be the corner stones of our pack. 

Now, I’d like to ask you the question, is that the right thing to do? To retain these lads? Or should or should we be letting them go knowing that we we can’t afford to pay them? What would you do there? Do we do we retain them or let them go? We’ve got conversations that we will need to have with Kai Pearce-Paul soon, you know, Kai’s obviously set the Super League on fire this year, but his manager will come knocking very, very soon. And you will still get the same Kai Pearce-Paul, but his salary might be four times more. So, if I’m sat where you are from a Wiganer’s point of view, you don’t see the fact that we might have to pay him three or four times more. You just see the one player and that’s the challenges that we’ve got to overcome. 

We believe we’ve got the history of developing and promoting our young players. That’s what we build our cornerstones on. It’s something I’m extremely proud of that other professional sports look at the development of our players and the fact that two thirds of our squad are homegrown, it’s unique in sport, and it’s a business model that we’ll stick to and that’ll always drive us forward. But it’s very important that you understand that when a player signs a long-term extension is great news, it also means we’re going to always start having to pay them properly. And that’s something that has worked for us in the past, but you need to understand.

New signings

KR: Ian has mentioned we’ve got four new signings, we’ve got a little bit of salary cap space left, there is something built in for a new half back. And I’m very, very confident that we will have an extremely strong squad. If I look at other Super League squads at the moment, there are a few, and I will mention Saints, that they’re beginning to have some of the issues that we’ve had for a number of years where you start to win trophies, players want more money, younger players get spoken about in NRL circles. Obviously, they lost Luke Thompson and I know another club have a few conversations going on at the minute where retaining these players is going to be a challenge. And it’s a challenge for every Super League club. I think when you see the Super League squads, at the start of next season, you will see probably teams with reduced rosters. Speaking to clubs at Super League meetings, a lot of teams are cutting the cloth accordingly. One of the things that we we thought would happen was an increase in the salary cap. The salary cap is 2.1 million. The talent pool of players at the moment is not getting any bigger. But people are now being able to demand the money. I have no issues with paying the top players the big money. The challenges that we’ve got as a sport is players can demand more money and whereas 100 grand used to be the holy grail, now every single player wants it. And as Ian pointed out, revenues are going down and player salaries are going up. And that’s a challenge for the game, for the sport over here. And we’re not immune from that. 

TV deal

IL: The TV deal in real money terms, which has come down from 40 million to 24 – of that 40 million, the RFL were taking 10 million that Super League didn’t get. We discovered that when Super League separated a few years ago. But unfortunately, now to 24 million, we’re still having to pay for referees and things of that ilk. We want Rugby League to continue to be strong, so we have to give them something and we’re giving them 5 million, which is a lot out of that 24 million, that only leaves us with the rest of it. So that’s why our distribution is down for the future. But one of the big benefits we get from it is Sky take on average two games a week, something of that order. The new deal means that we can actually stream some matches of our own and charge for them if we want. And we’ve also got 65 more matches left over. So, the idea is to stream some elsewhere if we can find another broadcaster. And secondly, to put some on terrestrial television because there’s no doubt that the BBC improves the eyeballs watching Rugby League over a period. So, the streaming part of the deal, which we’ll get nothing from for the next couple of years until we build it up, could be great for the future. So, there are some good things that come out of that.

Super League / RFL 

IL: A bit of politics going on there between them, but the bigger clubs are beginning to flex their muscles to get something sensible going forward. You’ve seen that relegation for this year stays exactly the same and 12 teams the next year, the idea of going up to 14 and down to 20 is so barmy that we can’t believe why anybody thought that was a good idea. But the idea of two leagues of 10, Super League and Championship / Super League Two, that’s in Wigan’s benefit to a certain extent, because you’ve only got 10 top teams. Alright, you might be playing everybody three times in the year, but the better quality of games. So, there’s a debate started now as to whether it’s 12, or 10. We haven’t really got an axe to grind either way, as far as that is concerned, we’ll go along with what is the most sensible best option. But a lot of it depends on how much money is available for the Super League teams, and how much is available for the Championship teams in order they can compete it and they come up, which may or may not happen.