Meet the young Wigan Warriors forward aiming to be club’s next great Aussie import

Wigan’s overseas talent spotting radar has proved pretty accurate over the years and Rease Casey is aiming to prove it works just as well in the women’s game.

WIGAN Warriors. It’s a name synonymous with rugby league the world over.

Five-time World Club Challenge winners, 21 Challenge Cup trophies, six Super League titles, the same again when it comes to League Leaders’ Shields, plus multiple Championship, Premiership and Regal Trophies – the Cherry and Whites really have won it all.

It’s no wonder then, that when a player gets the opportunity to play for a club with such a rich history, it is a chance that’s often too good to turn down.

That was exactly the position forward Rease Casey found herself in when faced with a decision of whether or not to move halfway across the world to join a Wigan side intent on breaking the monopoly of the ‘big three’ in Super League and bring yet more success to the newly named Brick Community Stadium.

She made that leap alongside former Western Clydesdales teammate and new housemate Nirada Phonsaya, and she feels their arrival in Super League, as well as England internationals Fran Goldthorp, Hollie Dodd and Georgia Roche moving to the NRLW, proves similar opportunities are available to others.

“I had been playing the game for 12 years back home and just wanted new opportunities and to do something a bit different,” said Casey, who started out as a netball player before switching to rugby league when her dad was coaching her brother at Litchfield Bears in Northern Territory.

“So when this opportunity popped up I thought, why not?

“One of our coaches at Clydesdales had played in France and knew people over here. He knew that if I was offered something overseas I’d love to try it and he must have been talking to someone he knew because he gave me another guy’s phone number. When I spoke to him he told me Wigan were looking for players and had offered something so I decided to take it.

“It was daunting at first though and there were a couple of second thoughts here and there, but I just didn’t want to stay in Australia for the rest of my career and then look back in the future and regret not taking the opportunity to experience the game in England.

“The thought of me coming over was daunting for my family too at first, but soon they were just telling me to do it. They knew I’d love it, and if I didn’t there would still be home to come back to.

“They were all very supportive so that helped as well. Me and Nirada are good mates from back home so it’s nice that she’s here too and going through the same things as I am. We can help each other through it, which is a good thing to have as well.

“Wigan are seen as one of the big clubs back in Australia, especially with their successes in the World Club Challenges against NRL teams.

“Whenever I mentioned who I’d signed for people were saying ‘Really, the big Wigan Warriors’ – they knew all about the club and it is pretty popular back home.

“Knowing that they have that reputation did add to the attraction of joining them. I also knew I was coming over to a club with good facilities and good pathways, which was great.

“They have also set me up with a job with their Community Foundation and I am coaching kids in schools and working on the skills-based programmes that we run.

“The club have brought me over with that support system in place and they have done so much for me already, and that’s not always something you get back home.

“I just love the game of rugby league. It’s everything I work for and it’s the reason I do what I do. It’s the love for the game that has got me over here and so far I am loving my time in Wigan. We’ve started the season well and everyone is so energetic and enthusiastic about the rest of the season.

“With us coming over here and the English players going out to the NRLW, it’s great that doors are opening for girls to experience different opportunities, not just in rugby league but in all sports.

“Our moves have prompted others to ask how they can do it, so it’s great that we’re starting to open so many paths to other players across the world.”

While Casey was aware of the reputation of the club, the same could not be said when it came to the reputation of her coach – Denis Betts.

Despite his long and illustrious association with Wigan, the 21-year-old didn’t know too much about who she’d be working with on these shores. But she has quickly seen the benefits his vast knowledge and experience in the game has brought to the side.

“I didn’t really know much about Denis before coming over,” admitted Casey, who has also played for Wynnum Manly Seagulls and represented the Indigenous Roosters Academy at the age of 18.

“But once I got here I learnt that he was a legend of this club.

“He is a great coach and it probably helps that he has five daughters. Women can be a bit more difficult to deal with sometimes, but he knows how to handle that.

“He’s really positive with us, takes out all the good that we do in games and doesn’t focus on the negatives too much. I think that helps in the women’s game and the girls have responded well to that. We’re all enjoying having Denis as our coach.

“I have learnt so much from him already and I’m really excited about what else I can take from him over the rest of the season.”

Since winning the inaugural Super League title in 2018, much has changed at Wigan Warriors, with the club bringing through multiple players from their own academy structure, and adding to that with experience from elsewhere, including Casey and Phonsaya.

While at Clydesdales, the Aussie duo played alongside World Cup winners Ali Brigginshaw and Kezie Apps, and Casey believes the knowledge they will have garnered from these two stars can be used to help Wigan challenge the likes of St Helens, Leeds Rhinos and York Valkyrie for success this year.

“I guess every team and every player says they want to go all the way every year but that really is what we want to do,” added Casey, who has joined a Wigan side that, heading into the Challenge Cup semi-final against Leeds, had won all seven of their previous matches and qualified for the Finals of the Nines tournament.

“Our goal is to show people that there is another team out there that can beat those three clubs that have been sitting top of the ladder for the last couple of years. It’s exciting to be able to challenge that.

“It would mean so much to me to bring some more success to this club. It would be amazing to be able to say I’d come over here, played in Super League and got to a Grand Final.

“I don’t think there are any words to describe how I’d feel if we could do that. I’ve never experienced anything like that before so it would be something completely different for me.

“I really do believe we have all the elements here to do it, we just have to stick together as a group and keep fighting until the end. I have already seen that even if things aren’t going too well on the field for spells, no one gives up, they lift their heads up and fight until the end.

“Denis knows what is needed to win big games and get success and that will help keep our heads calm and focussed on what’s important when we do get into those big game stages.

“I did learn a lot from girls like Ali and Kezie back home. With Ali being a half there were lots of little things I took from from her in terms of attacking play, while Kezie is a strong defender and a strong player in the forwards, so what I learnt from her is helping me a lot now I’m more in the middle. Hopefully I can pass on some of those skills to the girls and help Wigan out in that way too.

“It is going to be a challenge, but I’m always up for a challenge and I can’t wait to see what we can do against the bigger teams.”

First published in Rugby League World magazine, Issue 497 (June 2024)

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