Andrew Bryan, NRL.com
The Australian rugby league team has been given a private tour of Manchester United training complex in Carrington and met some of the biggest names in world football.
Kangaroos captain Cameron Smith, vice captain Paul Gallen and five-eighth Johnathan Thurston swapped jerseys with Manchester United superstars Ryan Giggs, Rio Ferdinand and Michael Carrick.
The Manchester United players had attended the 2013 State of Origin decider at ANZ Stadium while they were in Sydney on a preseason tour and were impressed with the speed of the game and the atmosphere.
“I’ve been to a lot of rugby league games in my life, but this was the quickest and the toughest,” Giggs told NRL.com.
“The skill was unbelievable, the atmosphere as well. The whole build up during the week, we were in Sydney and it was like the Champions League Final, so it was great to eventually get to one and I really enjoyed it.”
Giggs is no stranger to the world’s biggest sporting events, having played 949 games for Manchester United in a career spanning 17 years.
The United star is still a passionate rugby league supporter and met up with the Melbourne Storm earlier in the year when they were in town for the World Club Challenge.
“I watch as much as I can,” he said.
“I met with the Melbourne Storm when they were over for the World Club Challenge, meeting Cameron and Billy Slater was really good to get up close and share ideas with them.
“Two nights before they were due to play Leeds, I went over and had a couple of hours with them in the hotel. They are really good guys and hopefully they learnt a bit from me and I definitely learnt a lot from them.”
Giggs’ father Danny Wilson played rugby league for Swinton and also represented Wales on four occasions.
It is where Giggs’ passion for rugby league was cemented.
“That is where it all comes from,” he said,
“From whenever I can remember, I followed rugby league. Football took over when I was 13 or 14 so I had to stop playing rugby and concentrated on football. But I’ve continued to keep an interest.
“I’ve grown up watching rugby league – Wigan is my team, I’ve grown up following them. I watch all the teams and it is great to see the guys over here for the World Cup.”
After meeting the Kangaroos and admitting that he knew a lot of the England players personally, his loyalties have not changed when asked to decide which team he is supporting in the World Cup.
“Wales definitely,” he said.
“I know a lot of the England players obviously and the quality that they have got. But I’m a Welshmen so I’ll be supporting Wales.”