WHITEHAVEN have cemented a partnership with the Nigerian Rugby League after a visit from former fans’ favourite Ade Adebisi.

The deal, struck up with the club’s vice-presidents, will see ‘Lagos Haven’ taking part in a newly-formed league in Nigeria and, hopefully, see players from that team heading to Cumbria, following in the footsteps of Whitehaven Papua New Guinea stars Jessie Joe Parker and Dion Aiye.

Adebisi, who scored 32 tries in 43 games for Whitehaven in 2008/09 after starting his career with London Skolars, was back in west Cumbria for discussions, and to watch Haven’s League One top-of-the-table clash with Skolars, a game Haven won 32-6.

“I played some of my best rugby in Whitehaven and that’s because I felt welcome and loved here,” said Adebisi, 32. “I’m looking forward to this partnership and I’d personally like to thank Des [Byrne] who has supported me.

“This journey is not just about rugby, it’s about changing people’s lives in Nigeria.

“When you look at the PNG boys at Whitehaven and see what they have done, I reckon this is what Nigerian players can do. You just have to look at the number of African boys playing in Super League. The Nigerians number the most. They are strong athletes.”

Ten teams are planned for the league, including Eco Trinity (Wakefield) Lagos Haven (Whitehaven), Lagos Rhinos (linked with Leeds), and they are hoping to finalise links with Super League Salford and Canterbury. Talks are also ongoing with NRL clubs and the New Zealand Federation.

The Nigerian RL are also helping with the game, Adebisi adding that “more than 800 school children took part in an event in February”.

“We did a lot with the kids and tested all the school children [with help from a sponsorship deal with Toyota] for the Sickle Cell disease, something I suffer from,” said Adebisi.

Sickle cell anaemia means he produces unusually-shaped red blood cells that can cause problems because they do not live as long as healthy blood cells and they can become stuck in blood vessels.

“For me, it’s not just about the rugby. I’m also using the game to tackle Sickle Cell. It’s a life-threatening illness and people can die from it. It effects two billion people worldwide, directly and indirectly.

“I know how much I have suffered from it throughout my career, but I had rugby to help me.”

On behalf of the Whitehaven vice-presidents, Des Byrne said: “These discussions with Ade have been going on for nearly two years now. He was wanting help to develop rugby league in Nigeria and asked if I could help them.

“He’s done really well with it and set up partnerships with Leeds and Wakefield, and we are the first club outside Super League to join a partnership with them.

“Basically, what it is, is that we are sponsoring a team in Nigeria and it’s going to be called Lagos Haven. They’ll be wearing a classic Whitehaven strip they’re having made - white with a chocolate, blue and gold band and we’re sponsoring that.

“He has other partnerships lined up with Super League and NRL clubs, so it’s quite a coup for Haven.

“Ade’s looking for a bit of help coaching-wise. So, a few of their coaches could come over and see how we do it, and then, hopefully, do what we’ve done with the PNG guys, and players could come across for some experience in the English game.

“If you look at the Nigerians, whether it’s athletics, football, rugby, boxing, every sport you’ve look at, they are very natural athletes.”