Super League in Las Vegas hailed as ‘biggest moment’ in its 28-year history

<span>Wigan Warriors fans at the Super League Las Vegas project launch.</span><span>Photograph: Olly Hassell/</span>
Wigan Warriors fans at the Super League Las Vegas project launch.Photograph: Olly Hassell/

Elvis Presley’s iconic Las Vegas performances infamously earned him the nickname the “atomic-powered singer” and in the words of the Warrington Wolves chief executive, Karl Fitzpatrick: “We are bringing the atomic-powered sport to Vegas, with our gladiators ready to steal the show.”

Super League will create history in March next year, after it was confirmed that two of its biggest clubs, Warrington and Wigan Warriors, will take a league fixture to Vegas’s Allegiant Stadium – alongside two fixtures from Australia’s National Rugby League – in a moment that has been described as “potentially groundbreaking for British rugby league”.

Related: NRL turns Las Vegas venture into nine-hour extravaganza with four matches in one day

There have been attempts to break out of the sport’s traditional northern-England bubble before but few, if any, have felt quite as significant as this. There is a ready-made platform for Super League to capitalise upon after the NRL attracted a crowd of over 45,000 for its double-header in Vegas in March this year. It offers the chance for growth into a new market like never before.

Wigan and Warrington will open a four-game festival of rugby league on Saturday 1 March, with the first Super League fixture to take place in the United States. The NRL double-header of Canberra v New Zealand Warriors and Penrith v Cronulla will then take place, with a women’s Test between England and Australia also on the bill.

Wigan and Warrington played an exhibition fixture in Milwaukee in 1989 but this, with competition points at stake in a globally renowned entertainment city, feels like a much bigger moment for the sport. “We’ve got a wonderful opportunity to redraw the limits of what we think is possible,” Wigan’s chief executive, Kris Radlinski, told the Guardian.

The reigning Super League and world champions have forfeited a regular Super League home game to make the event happen and Radlinski admitted it represents a financial gamble but said it was an opportunity Wigan could not ignore.

“If we all do our roles – that’s players, administrators, fans – it might take us to a really good place,” he said. “It’s a gamble. It’s a home game of ours, there’s two competition points at stake and we’ll have to refund our fans one game out of their season tickets. We’ll lose some match revenue and hospitality but that’s a risk my owner was prepared to take.

“The fact it’s a meaningful game matters means a lot, I think. There are competition points at stake here. The fact it’s part of an NRL calendar with competition points up for grabs for their clubs, too, everything means something on that day. I can’t overstate how big a moment this is for rugby league.”

Radlinski is largely responsible for Super League joining the festival alongside the NRL next year after a speculative email to the Australian powerbroker Peter V’landys, shortly after the historic first double-header in Vegas this year. Radlinski said Warrington were the obvious choice to be Wigan’s opponents, in what will be a rematch of this year’s Challenge Cup final.

“Fitzy is an ideas man, we meet everything single month and put it in our diaries and talk about the challenges and ideas in the game,” Radlinski said of Fitzpatrick, his Warrington counterpart. “To work alongside him was a big factor for me. Then there’s the Sam Burgess effect and when you look at it all, it’s a no-brainer for them to take part. It was brilliant to work with them at Wembley.”

Fitzpatrick has consistently challenged Super League to think big and attempt to broaden its horizons beyond its roots. Perhaps unsurprisingly, he was enthusiastic about the scale of the occasion that awaits both clubs. “I think it’s the biggest moment in Super League history,” he said. “I’ve been involved in professional rugby league since 1997, first as a player and now as an administrator. We’ve been to Twickenham, the Nou Camp. This far exceeds any of those. This is an opportunity like no other. We speak about breaking out of this bubble of ours – this ticks every single box.

“You look at the attendance this year and the market you’re potentially going into next year, it’s categorically unprecedented. This shows what happens when you think differently and you think big. Today is potentially the start of a life-changing journey for rugby league.”