Talking RL: ‘Burgess back where he belongs’

Joe Burgess has done a job at centre... but he's a brilliant winger
Joe Burgess has done a job at centre... but he's a brilliant winger

It’s too simplistic to say Wigan’s change of fortunes - three games unbeaten - is down to the returning players; as in, it’s all down to what they bring to the mix.

It’s also the knock-on effect - the fact their return allows others to play in their more comfortable positions.

Lewis Tierney is a better winger than a full-back, Willie Isa a better ‘middle’ than a centre.

And I’m sure Joel Tomkins will agree he’s not at his best at stand-off, a position he’s had to fill once this year!

Joe Burgess underlined that point in Sunday’s 28-12 win against Widnes.

He has played a lot of games at centre this year, covering for Oliver Gildart and Anthony Gelling while they were injured.

And he did a solid job. He was alright.

But Burgess is much more than an alright player.

This is the bloke who scored a hat-trick against Cronulla, for crying out loud. As a winger.

And on Sunday, back on the wing, he arguably changed the game - first with a try-saving tackle at 16-12, when Wigan were on the ropes, and then securing the win with two late tries, the last of which showed no shortage of speed and poise.

Until that point, when Wigan were hanging on to a four-point lead on Sunday – having let a 16-0 lead slip – I must admit I felt a sense of deja vu creeping in.

Here we go again.

Given how, before the game, most fans would have taken any win - ugly, unconvincing, narrow - it seems almost harsh to be too picky afterwards.

But it’s fair to say if they cough up as much ball in bigger games, they’ll be punished far more severely.

Despite a winless league run stretching eight games, Shaun Wane insisted there was no monkey to cast from their back.

Still, I couldn’t help wonder if that run had created a nervousness which led to some of the mistakes.

If that was the case, then hopefully the two points will boost their confidence as they head to Catalans on Saturday.

Mathematically, Wigan are still at risk of dropping into the bottom-four.

Realistically, that’s unlikely, but they can secure their place in the top-eight - ahead of the Super-8s split - with victory at Catalans on Saturday.

Their sights are firmly fixed on climbing the ladder and breaking into the top-four at the end of the next 10 games.

They have a six-point margin to overturn. Some believe they may need to win every one of their remaining matches to be in the play-offs mix.

Personally, I think there’s a little bit of wriggle-room.

This isn’t the Premier League, when the leading pack play each every few weeks and - in between - chalk off expected wins against 15 or 16 other sides.

Because of the convoluted structure in Super League, the top sides meet much more often.

The top-six play each other this weekend. That’s three teams dropping points straight away.

Week later? The top-four play each other. More points dropped.

And in the Super-8s, of course, there will be no ‘dead’ games if, say, Wigan and St Helens can realistically make a challenge for the play-offs spots over the remaining seven rounds.

It may also matter who they lose to: a defeat to Castleford wouldn’t be as damaging as one to one of the sides they are shoulder-to-shoulder with, battling to scrape into the four.

So Wigan can aim to go the rest of the season unbeaten - and twice, under Wane, they’ve enjoyed 13-match winning streaks, while last year they had an eight-win streak.

But if they drop a match along the way, I don’t think it’ll be the end of their play-offs hopes.

Maybe I’m being too optimistic, but if I am, at least I’m not alone. Second-place Salford are 12/1 to win the Grand Final. Seventh-placed Wigan? Less than 5/1.

I fancy Wigan to get the win at Perpignan, based on form and personnel.

Catalans are rudderless, leaking too many points, and have three players suspended including one of their best, Greg Bird.

Past results, of course, have little bearing on the current side, but they can be interesting to look at.

And for the last 10 years, Wigan’s results at Catalans have gone like this: drawn-won-lost-won-lost-won-lost-won-lost-won... - a pattern they will want to break on Saturday!

St John Fisher High has proved a nursery for future rugby league stars.

You only have to look at the current Warriors set-up – Sean O’Loughlin, Liam Farrell, Sam and Joel Tomkins, Lewis Tierney, Ryan Sutton, performance director Mark Bitcon... – to see that.

But, a bit bizarrely, two ex-pupils from the Beech Hill high school – former St Pat’s junior Owen Farrell and fitness guru Paul Stridgeon – are part of the rugby union Lions set-up hoping to clinch a series victory on Saturday.

I watched the second Test on Saturday and was thrilled they got the win. I bit my tongue at the number of penalties, and I shrugged off the subsequent cross-code digs (one said red-carded Sonny Bill Williams ‘hasn’t got the violent stupidity of rugby league out of his system’).

And with ex-Wigan captain Andy Farrell (for the record, ex-Hawkley Hall High/Orrell St James juniors) on board, too, it’s great to see Wiganers flying the flag.

Good luck to them.

A couple weeks ago, when I wrote a piece about the BBC’s improved coverage of rugby league, someone remarked Jamie Jones-Buchanan is difficult to understand.

Which is true. It’s how those Yawk-shur folk speak.

But he more than makes up for it with his colourful descriptions.

On this week’s Five Live podcast, he described dancing the disciplinary line as such – “my intention, whilst to knock people’s heads off in a game, is to do it fairly”.

And his thoughts on Salford’s Ben Murdoch-Masila? “He’s a monster, it’s like tackling a car”.

All good stuff.