June 1989 was the night that Warrington played
Wigan in a challenge match the American mid-west city of Milwaukee
in Wisconsin.The match was played at CountyStadium,
the home of Milwaukee Brewers baseball team.It was the culmination of a dream by former Gridiron player Mike Mayer
to establish rugby league in America.Two years earlier Mayer had staged an exhibition State of Origin match played between Queensland and New South Wales at Long Beach, California.
Australian hard man Les Boyd
flew over to America
to play his final game of rugby league.He wanted to go out with a bang and that meant “sorting out” the world’s
number one player of the time Ellery Hanley.Boyd did get to Hanley and both players were sin binned early in the
match, Hanley was unusually quiet after his return.
The match was certainly no
friendly and at times was brutal.The
match was open war-fare from the kick-off as Boyd and Hanley got stuck into
each other.The aggression continued
after the sin-binning as Paul Cullen whacked Dean Bell and other players tried
to settle personal feuds.
The match itself was played on a
narrow pitch, 60 meters wide, which did not lend itself to open rugby as both
sides continually ran out of space.The
groundsman would not allow the pitchers mound to be part of the rugby pitch,
hence the narrowing.The star-studded Wigan side won the match 12-5, with Joe Lydon leading the
way.Warrington’s points came from two John Woods
penalties and a “Rocky” Turner drop goal.The match turned out to be John Woods last in the primrose and blue, he
was transferred to Rochdale before the start
of the next season for £ 50,000.
The crowd of 17,773 thoroughly
enjoyed the fiery action and went away from their first rugby league match
wanting more.Unfortunately for them
there was no follow up to this match and it would be another nine years before
the AMNRL was set-up.By which time Mike Mayer had given up on rugby
league.Peter Deakin who had been
heavily involved in promoting the match stayed in the USA and learned
about sports marketing, American style.He brought this expertise back to England and helped Bradford Bulls
and Warrington Wolves in their transition to the summer era.
Warrington and Wigan
played in American style shirts, with bold numbers and players names on the
back, which have become standard during the Super League era.Warrington
had 25 of the specially designed shirts made, the shirt worn by skipper Mike
Gregory is proudly displayed in the reception at The Halliwell Jones Stadium.
BBC picked up on the event and as well as showing the highlights on Grandstand
broadcast an interview with Mike Mayer by Eddie Hemmings, then a young
television reporter early in his career.The British television audience of millions, were shown rugby league in
a different light with the American razzmatazz and slick commentary that is now
commonplace in the Sky Super League broadcasts.
the Warrington and Wigan club’s made a
significant financial outlay in order to make the trip to America, as did
their sponsors Greenalls and Norweb.The
match needed to be followed up by the rugby league authorities in both Britain and Australia to lay the foundations
for the development of the sport.This
did not happen and the opportunity was missed.
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