How Wigan centurion French went from NRL exile to Super League stardom

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How Wigan centurion French went from NRL exile to Super League stardom

It is just under five years since Bevan French was first unleashed on the Betfred Super League by Wigan Warriors as an interchange player against Hull KR. On Friday, the reigning Man of Steel is set to make his 100th appearance for the club against the same opponent.

French’s 21-minute cameo in a 36-18 win for the Warriors on that August 2019 evening saw him show enough to anyone watching that this was a player capable of making an impact, with his future head coach among those.

Matt Peet, then part of Adrian Lam’s Wigan coaching staff, has seen the Australian become an integral part of the team since then and recalls how the former Parramatta Eels player made an immediate impression from the moment he walked through the door at the DW Stadium.

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“The first thing that came across was he was a really warm person, very relaxed,” Peet said. “And then I remember his first game when he came on from the bench and his X-factor stood out a mile.

“You see that in training as well, the things he’s capable of.

“The first thing that struck me was his warmth, his character, his humility, his fun side, and then when he got on the field it was his pure X-factor and unique talent.”

French’s impact goes beyond what he has done on the field for Wigan though, which includes helping the Warriors to Betfred Challenge Cup, Betfred Super League Grand Final and World Club Challenge glory, earning the player of the match accolade in the latter.

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Wigan Warriors’ Bevan French scored an impressive try from his own kick ahead in the recent Betfred Super League win over Leigh Leopards

Now part of the club’s leadership group, he is responsible for helping set the standards for the latest clutch of players coming through Wigan’s renowned youth system to follow when they reach the senior squad and it is a role he has settled into naturally.

“He understands his responsibility here, he understands what the ethos of the club is, but I genuinely think it’s in line with his own values as well,” Peet said.

“He is an ambassador and quite naturally he puts himself forward, he can communicate with people from all walks of life and all age groups. He’s just got that naturally about him, that he’s easy to connect with, and that’s how he leads.

“He’s not very authoritative, although he can be when he has to be, but most of the time he promotes that team spirit and fun among the lads which rubs off on the young players and gives them the confidence to express themselves.”

Bevan French in Super League in 2024

It is easy to forget that French, the reigning Man of Steel and a Super League Dream Team selection at full-back, winger and stand-off in 2020, 2022 and 2023 respectively, arrived on these shores seeking to rebuild his career after being left out of the Eels’ NRL squad in 2019.

Prior to moving to the Warriors he had been playing for Eels feeder club Wentworthville Magpies in the second-tier New South Wales Cup, but has turned his career around to the extent he has attracted offers to return to the NRL.

French has spurned those to remain with Wigan though, signing a four-year contract extension with the Super League champions earlier this month, being determined to repay the faith shown in him initially.

“I felt like I’ve had some things to prove to myself more than anything, that I would still be able to do it,” French told Sky Sports News after signing his new contract.

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Reigning Man of Steel Bevan French explained to Sky Sports News why he decided to stay in the Betfred Super League with Wigan Warriors

“Over my past couple of contracts I’ve come close with negotiations with a couple of clubs back in the NRL, but I think when we spoke about extending this time I really gave Wigan the option to see if we could come to an agreement before I looked elsewhere.

“I just enjoy my time here, obviously with all the rugby stuff, but more importantly off the field. I’ve built a lot of good relationships on and off the field, and just evolving each year.

“I never feel like I’m stuck in the same place, I feel like I’m improving every time I go out each week. It’s a good feeling to have and I want to pay Wigan back for all the faith they’ve put in me, and the community as well.”

Few would argue that he has perhaps already more than repaid that debt he feels he owes to the Warriors, with the looming milestone of a century of appearances underlining just how much of a lynchpin French has become.

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Bevan French put the seal on Wigan Warriors’ win away to Salford Red Devils in the Betfred Super League with this try

Peet could be forgiven if he was bored of being constantly asked about French as well, but the head coach could not speak highly enough of him ahead of what will be a big night for the 28-year-old at Sewell Group Craven Park.

“We love him to bits, and I love him to bits,” Peet said. “He has the potential to go down as a legend here, but that will come by him turning up daily and applying himself.

“That’s what he does, he’s a pleasure to work with and a very determined individual. He’s obviously got unbelievable talent, but he’s just a good man. His family can be very proud of him and I’m sure they are, and we’re very proud of him.

“To see the way he’s developed his game across those 100 games, there have been some moments of brilliance, some obstacles to overcome and I’m sure our supporters will join me in saying he’s been a joy to watch, so here’s to the next 100.”

Round 9 of the Betfred Super League season continues on Friday, April 30 with three games – including exclusive live coverage of Hull KR vs Wigan Warriors on Sky Sports Action from 7.30pm (8pm kick-off). Watch every Super League match in 2024 live on Sky Sports and stream with NOW.

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