Wilkin torn over Million Pound Game

Jon Wilkin
Jon Wilkin

Jon Wilkin must have had mixed feelings when the curtain came down on Saturday’s stunning and nerve-tingling Million Pound Game between Hull KR and Salford Red Devils at the KC Lightstream Stadium.

The Saints’ skipper will have been delighted that his business partner and former team-mate, Mark Flanagan, had helped the Mancunians to a 19-18 golden point victory but being a former Rovers’ player will be ruing the relegation of the Humberside club who gave him his chance in the sport as a youngster.

The match, in which former St Helens loanee Gareth O’Brien dropped the crucial one-pointer, was almost a carbon copy of the Academy Grand Final six days earlier when Saints defeated Wigan Warriors 22-20 at Langtree Park.

In both cases the visitors drew level as the hooter sounded for the end of 80 minutes - and then missed a match-clinching goal.

The only difference in the end was Saints won their tie with a Danny Richardson penalty - but it seems almost uncanny that two encounters in less than a week should follow an almost identical pattern.

Still on the subject of the Million Pound game, I think the result will come as another body blow to the RL who have lost their second big city Super League club to the Championship since 2014.

Hull KR, who have a solid fan base, join Bradford Bulls, in the second tier of the sport - two clubs in communities steeped in RL history and tradition and with the potential of attracting larger crowds than say the likes of Wakefield Trinity Wildcats and Castleford Tigers.

It also signals the end for the time being of one of the most attractive and crowd-pulling fixtures of the year - the Humberside league derby.

That can’t be good for the game in a season when some attendances have been a little disappointing to say the least.

There were quite a few empty seats dotted around the Halliwell-Jones Stadium for the Warrington-Saints semi-final tie, which attracted 12,036 fans, and only 10,013 supporters bothered to turn up for the Wigan-Hull encounter - one of the lowest attendance at the DW Stadium this season.

Old Trafford will no doubt be packed to the rafters for Saturday’s Grand Final between Wigan Warriors and Warrington Wolves but that should not be allowed to overshadow what I believe is a worrying trend in big games.

Even the Challenge Cup Final involving Hull FC and Warrington failed to fill the Empire Stadium - a crowd of 76,235 was the lowest at the Mecca of British Sport since the 1999 Leeds-London Broncos clash pulled in 73,242

enthusiasts.

It’s something the powers-that-be at Red Hall need to address at a time when Rugby Union seems to be leading the way in marketing and promoting their sport.