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Few men have graced the mortal coil with honour and integrity. Even fewer who could combine that grace, skill and heart. One such man was born into the world on the 9th of April 1976 in the town of Wigan in England. That man is Kris Radlinski.
The year was 1993. In the Australian competition the Brisbane Broncos were embarking on their journey to obtain their second title in consecutive years, a feat not easily obtained in that day and age. In the English competition, the Wigan Warriors were going for their own set of consecutive titles.
Wigan has a proud history in the English game. They have won many titles throughout the history of Rugby league in the ?Old Dart?, 17 to be exact. They unearthed in 1993 a future legend in fullback, Kris Radlinski.
Radlinski was a 17 year old Wigan junior, born and bred. The ?cherry and whites? saw the boundless talent he had and quickly put him into the First Grade team where he found his feet. He took to the game of league like mustard takes to a hot dog. His ability to diffuse a bomb was second to none. He had pace, skill, swerve and a will to succeed.
But with any good tradesman, even if the right tools are on hand, he still needed to work to improve what he had and to evolve his own skills. He knew that he needed to grow as a player, but more than that, he wanted to.
Radlinski was instrumental in helping to keep the Wigan legacy alive by helping them in their quest to win the treble. In Rugby League in England that consists of the Challenge Cup, the Premiership and the coveted World Championship. Wigan won that honour in the 1994 season, most notably taking the World Title off the Brisbane Broncos in front of a huge crowd at ANZ Stadium.
On field honours aside, it is Kris? personality and his integrity off the paddock which makes him a true legend and it exemplifies the reason I have looked up to him since he came onto the scene in the early 90?s.
After years of loyal service to the game of Rugby League, Radlinski was approached in 2001 to join the ranks of Rugby Union. In an era when Rugby Yawnion was approaching the big names of league to jump ship, it wasn?t a surprise to many that Rads was propositioned. With Wendell Sailor and Mat Rogers having agreed to join the other code after the powerbrokers had opened up their cheque books, it would have been hard to turn down such a lucrative offer. To quote Colonel Samuel Trautmann from Rambo: First Blood, ??that?s like bringing the pigeons to the cat.? But Rads stayed true to his hometown club and wanted to continue to repay the loyalty the Warriors had shown him.
Radlinski went on to play a pivotal role in the 2002 Challenge Cup final, helping Wigan to beat their razor sharp rivals St Helens, winning the Lance Todd Trophy for player of the match. His performance is made that much more remarkable by having fluid drained from his foot hours before the game.
With his inspirational presence on the field for Wigan, Rugby were again not far off kicking down his door and getting on their knees to beg for him to make the jump. In 2005 they made another offer for the great custodian. Once again, Radlinski said no.
2005 marked a bittersweet symphony for the great man. He was awarded the captaincy of his beloved Wigan side. However, injuries cruelled his season and he made a handful of appearances for the top side. In 2006 he announced his retirement from the game due to the injury of his knee. It was a sad day for the Wigan faithful.
His legacy grew stronger mid season. Wigan was under the pump, battling feverishly to avoid the dreaded drop to first division. Brian Noble came on board to help steer them out of the battle. Radlinski then made the decision to come out of retirement and lend a hand to the Warriors. Wigan couldn?t afford to pay him. But Radlinski didn?t want any money. He played for free.
After helping Wigan win their way to safety, Rads hung his boots up again for the final time. He was a selfless toiler who showed what loyalty really is and what Rugby League and Wigan meant to him.