Wigan's quest crosses codes
The day after former Wigan full-back Chris Ashton carries the hopes of 80,000 at Twickenham as England attempt to overcome France in the Six Nations, Ashton and his union mates will be glued to their televisions, watching the Warriors take their own shot at world glory.
Wigan chairman Ian Lenagan received a request from England manager Martin Johnson before the Super League season began to bring his players north in order to witness the Warriors and the Australian champions doing battle.
A logistical headache will stop the union boys travelling but they will still be watching from afar.
Wigan have started their Super League season with a draw against St Helens and a win over Bradford. Pic: Press Association
"I support England rugby union so why shouldn't they support us here in rugby league against Australia? Everyone wants to beat the Aussies, don't they? There is good respect between the two codes."
Lenagan's comments were ringing in my ears in the pub the other night when a local in my west London alehouse suggested to me that no-one would care whether Wigan won or not as people are too caught up in the Six Nations.
I think that's rubbish.
Likewise, the suggestion that league fans - and Wiganers in particular - resent the fame and fortune Ashton is earning as an international rugby union try machine.
On the contrary, Ashton's stellar rise is a massive pat on the back for the 13-man game. In fact, the juxtaposition of Ashton's England and Lenagan's Wigan, hours apart on the biggest sporting stage this weekend, is a source of massive pride for the small rugby town in the north-west of England.
"We are delighted and proud to watch Ashton doing what he is doing for English rugby," said Lenagan. "This is a kid born and brought up in Wigan and now he's showing everyone in the country how to play rugby. It's just a pity we lost him before I came to Wigan."
Not that Lenagan is licking his wounds. The club has unearthed another future superstar in Sam Tomkins.
"Sam is probably the most exciting young rugby player of either code that I've seen in a long time," said Lenagan. "He has signed a new long-term deal - as has his brother Joel - so we have no problem holding on to our best players."
Lenagan's insistence that the union/league divide is fading is based on more than just the interest shown in his club by the England rugby union manager.
Michael Maguire's first acquisition as Wigan coach was Mark Bitcon, a strength and conditioning coach from Gloucester RUFC. Lenagan told me that Bitcon, who worked with Wigan legend Denis Betts at Gloucester, has made a massive difference, not only to the fitness of the players but their entire professional approach.
"We are proud of that crossover with union," Lenagan said.
The bottom line is that Wigan want to create another dynasty. Last October's deserved Super League Grand Final success over St Helens at Old Trafford ended a 13-year wait for the top honour. Now the challenge is to prove it is the start of a new period of Cherry and White dominance after the successes of the 1980s and 1990s. Victory over the Australian champion Dragons is the next big step towards that goal.
"I want us to be world champions as well as Super League champions," said Lenagan.
"Our last title was in 1998 and for Wigan to be strong is good for rugby league and certainly good for fans of Wigan.
"It has been a hard grind over the last three years. We have got a great coach in Michael Maguire and a squad full of Wiganers. In that respect, we are mirroring old Wigan teams. We have a strong squad with international players as well as home-grown players, so it should do well."
In St George, Wigan meet a side founded on the same philosophy. Their NRL Grand Final-winning side boasted nine home-grown players as they continue their commitment to bringing young talent through. The Dragons promise they are treating the trip seriously rather than a holiday. Still, they cannot resist the traditional dig at the bitter English winter.
"Most of boys are a bit shocked by weather," said centre Matt Cooper. "It has been hard to explain to them what two degrees is going be like."
The Dragons, who spent a couple of days acclimatising and sight-seeing on arrival in England, will have to win the title without Wayne Bennett. A legendary coach and a man described by his club chairman as the most powerful man in world rugby at the moment, he has returned to Australia for family reasons.
Still, I expect a thrilling contest in front of a sell-out crowd.
The gentleman in my local pub may not bother watching the game after he is done with England-France on Saturday but Johnson and his players will be. Maybe the England coach will tell him what he is missing.