Matt Peet has only known Wigan Warriors as a team that regularly appears in finals and wins trophies. That is why he is not surprised by the expectations that the fans express to him when he is in the city.
Instead of congratulations on the success of last year’s Betfred Super League Grand Final, the focus is firmly on the upcoming World Club Challenge clash against NRL champions Penrith Panthers at a sold-out DW Stadium on February 24th.
The victory over the Catalans Dragons at Old Trafford last year followed Peet’s first season as head coach in 2022, which saw the Warriors win the Betfred Challenge Cup, although the 39-year-old is fully aware that he is still There is a lot of work left to do. .
“There’s vibrancy, but it’s less about the fact that we’re champions and more about the fact that we get to play Penrith,” Peet said. sky sports. “That’s what people talk about.
“They’re not saying, ‘well done, you’re champions’. They’re telling us, ‘you better beat Penrith’ and telling us how many tickets they’ve bought and how fantastic it’s going to be.
“The work is far from finished, it is a work that has just begun.”
The fact that around 25,000 tickets were sold for the clash with Penrith, Australian champions for the last three seasons, five weeks in advance is another sign of how the Warriors have strengthened the links between themselves and the Wigan district community.
However, like the work on the ground, this remains an ongoing process and there is still a large gap to bridge. That is, the long-standing one between the rugby league club and the football team with which they share the DW Stadium, Wigan Athletic.
Relations between the two appeared to deteriorate irreconcilably in 1987, when the leader of Wigan’s rugby revolution, Maurice Lindsay, said of Athletic, before the FA Cup quarter-final against Leeds United: “They are a very small club. successful and prosperous. “We’ve done almost everything right… but they’ve chosen rugby league’s backyard to do it.”
Lindsay would regret those comments shortly before his death in 2022 and with both clubs now owned by Mike Danson, the Wigan billionaire is keen to foster closer ties on and off the pitch.
“He wants to try to repair this broken relationship between football and rugby that has been there for more than 30 years, and I am determined to keep working,” Warriors chief executive Kris Radlinski said. sky sports.
The job is far from done; the work is just beginning.
“I think it’s about sending messages and communicating to both groups of fans that it’s about the city of Wigan now. It’s not about the football club or the rugby league, it’s about supporting the people of the city of Wigan. Wigan.
“We have to be stronger if we do that together, which we will. I would love for more fans of each team to support each other and wish each other well when we do things, but we’re not there yet.”
It’s a view Peet shares, but sees it as beneficial to the city as a whole, whether people support the Warriors or not, knowing there are economic benefits and simply contributing to a sense of civic pride if both teams are enjoying success.
There have been occasions in the past when clubs have celebrated each other’s triumphs, most notably in 2013 when Wigan became the first place to have teams contesting the FA Cup and Challenge Cup at the same time.
Peet has developed a strong working relationship with Latics coach Shaun Maloney since Danson also took over ownership, and the pair meet regularly to exchange ideas and discuss approaches that can be applied across two different sports.
“First of all, he’s a good man, very welcoming and very respectful of our game, but he’s also very smart when it comes to sports and training,” Peet said of Maloney.
“He’s a curious coach, he’s a modern coach and he’s worked with some outstanding people. He has a strong value and spirit that is very similar to what we have. They are very easy conversations and I hope to build on that friendship.
“I think we probably talk more about managing men and managing individuals in a team setting, and I think that goes both ways. That’s culturally what’s talked about. We’re in a team sport, but it’s how you can manage better your players?”
As someone who was inspired by Wigan’s regular trips to Wembley and trophy-laden glory days from the late 1980s to mid-1990s, Peet knows the importance of ensuring his team is visible in the community to generate buzz. same kind of enthusiasm among future generations.
But at the same time, he knows the Warriors must continue to get results on the field to attract support as well. Victory over Penrith and the defense of their Super League crown, a defense he begins against Castleford Tigers on February 17, would go a long way towards achieving that.
“It all goes together, it’s a cycle,” Peet said. “The more we immerse ourselves in the city, the better our players become. They realize who they play for, they win more games and then the city supports us too.”
“We help the city and the city helps us, and this will continue. There will be good times and bad times, but right now we are waiting for a really fantastic occasion and I think selling that game out as quickly as we did is testament to the work we are doing. doing on and off the field.
“If we were doing community work but not playing good rugby, we wouldn’t be selling out and if we were playing good rugby but not being in the community, we wouldn’t be selling out.”
Watch Wigan Warriors open the 2024 Betfred Super League live on Sky Sports against Castleford Tigers on Saturday February 17 (5.30pm kick-off). He also broadcasts without a contract with NOW.