The 18th Man Column: ‘Escare is great, where will Tomkins fit in?’

Anthony Gelling crosses for the match-sealing try against Leigh, but it was George Williams (inset)
who was the star of the show according to Jon Lyon
Anthony Gelling crosses for the match-sealing try against Leigh, but it was George Williams (inset) who was the star of the show according to Jon Lyon

The Warriors secured the win in the first competitive Battle of the Borough of the season in difficult conditions.

The man of the people Anthony Gelling was on hand to score two tries but the man of the moment was undoubtedly George Williams.

First his clever kick was flicked back by Lewis Tierney into Gelling’s grateful arms for probably the easiest try of his career. Then he jinked through a cluster of Leigh defenders to score one of his trademark tries, and then to put the game to bed, he was clean through with support down the left hand side but instead of going for the simple pass, he cleverly kicked the ball over to the wide open Gelling in acres of space. He really has grown into the Wigan number six shirt and rumours of a switch to the NRL are getting louder by the week.

It would be a huge shame for Wigan and Super League if he was to ply his trade in Australia, but as a young man with no ties who could possibly blame him for a better salary and standard of living?

Morgan Escare chimed in with eight points from the boot and put in another impressive performance from fullback, and many fans are wondering where Sam Tomkins will fit in when he returns as Escare cannot be dropped on current form.

The conditions meant that an expansive game was never going to occur but it was another impressive result in the Warriors’ perfect start to the season. The only downside are injuries to Tierney, Burgess and Sutton. Shaun Wane must be praying the injury curse that struck last season isn’t going to threaten to derail the season again, particularly in a backline already shorn of Sam Tomkins and Dom Manfredi.

Tonight the Warriors travel to the Halliwell Jones Stadium to face last season’s Grand Final opponents the Warrington Wolves and whilst both clubs excelled in the World Club Series with Warrington beating Brisbane and the Warriors being crowned World Champions against Cronulla, their fortunes domestically couldn’t be more contrasting.

Whilst Wigan remain unbeaten, the Wolves have yet to register their first win in Super League. Despite the disquiet amongst the Wolves fans, I am not reading too much into their poor start though. They have faced a Castleford side that are also unbeaten and in red hot form, Catalan Dragons away which is never an easy game for any side, and lost narrowly to Salford last time out who seem to be finding their feet under Ian Watson. Add to this they really exerted themselves in order to get the British clubs off the mark in the World Club Series and you can see why they have struggled. That being said, if Wigan were to open up an eight point gap at this early stage, the pressure on Tony Smith will no doubt grow.

David Bailey

With the rain lashing down and not a footy game in sight, we were all set for a proper old fashioned display of summer rugby, ‘a la 1987’. It did not disappoint and the Leigh fans’ high hopes of toppling their local rivals soon washed away as we controlled possession and field position whilst defending with a real sense of organisation and determination.

It is I suppose what we expect of a Wigan team coached by Shaun Wane, but it so impresses me to see just what these lads do for a living. One of the prices they pay of course is a risk of injury and at the pre-season dinner when Ian Lenagan commented almost light-heartedly about what we can expect this year without the massive injury crisis of 2016 to cope with came back to haunt us as we lost four players in the game, with three out of action for a few weeks at least. Strike players like Burgess and Tierney will be hard enough to replace, but Ryan Sutton has been like a man reborn this year as his new physique shows how hard he has worked pre season. We will miss him.

Any other time and I would be thinking, ‘OMG what are we to do’, but I suppose that we are used to our youngsters coming through and doing a fantastic job when asked to step up.

A fine example of this was Liam Marshall who was every bit the Warrior as he stood his ground and made some great defensive choices. Keeping square to stop the overlap gave him all the options he needed and is an indication of the quality of coaching staff that we have here at every level. A moment of disbelief as Marshall dropped a high ball, left me feeling like patting the lad on the back as he had run onto it rather than risk the bounce. Only the conditions caused the error and I thought it was brave and confident and deserved praise.

Warrington will be wringing their hands at the thought of a Wigan side turning up slightly under strength with some fresh faces, but then if they think about it, they would soon remember that it’s not the first time they thought they were going to win.

With ex-Widnes captain Kevin Brown running the show for them now, a lot may hinge on the physio staff from both clubs to see who comes out on top.

Darren Wrudd

This week, Gary Hetherington released an open letter to Leeds fans stating that March was crucial to the club and in particular for the future of playing and coaching staff. Ironically, the last game of March for Leeds is Wigan at Headingley –that could mean the game between Leeds and Wigan could be the one that seals Brian McDermott’s fate one way or another.

I also believe March could be a crucial month for Wigan if they are to win the League Leaders Shield for the first time since 2012. It is early days still in the season, I know, but with St Helens, Warrington and Leeds suffering stuttering starts – March presents an opportunity for Wigan to pull away from those teams and perhaps set up a shoot-out at the top of the competition with Castleford, who are impressing many at the moment.

The injuries to Burgess, Gildart, Tierney, Bateman and Sutton (along with the long term absentees) ensure that success in March is going to be very much a squad effort. Wigan play Warrington, Huddersfield, Hull and Leeds in March (as well as already beating Leigh). I would say that four wins out of five from that period would set Wigan up very nicely to compete for the £100,000 reward of winning the League Leaders Shield – a fact, I think, is often lost when discussing the merits of finishing top. An extra £100,000 in the coffers could take a big difference when it comes to player retention and signings.

Wigan will have to dig deep to make March successful, but I think Wigan do have the strongest squad in the league and it will be a month when players like Liam Forsyth, Tom Davies, Jack Wells and Josh Ganson get their opportunity on the first team stage. As we saw with Gildart, Powell etc , if they take their opportunity then Shaun Wane will reward them with more appearances throughout the year.

It is an exciting month ahead, in which I am hoping to seeing Jack Wells get another shot in the first team after his three appearances last year, a player who impressed many in the England Academy in 2016.

The injuries to those mentioned above will hopefully mean that they return in time for the busy Easter period, in-particular the Castleford game on April 6 and Wigan’s attempt to make it eight Good Friday wins in a row on April 14.

Sean Lawless

It was cold, wet and windy, but Wigan got the job done in the battle of the borough last week as they beat Leigh Centurions 20-0 down at the DW. It wasn’t the greatest of games, but entertaining nonetheless. Both sides defended well, and it was just the class of Wigan that got the job done.

Just beating Leigh wasn’t good enough, and as Escaré converted Gelling’s try to make it 20-0, the Wigan fans around me, all collectively said: “Right, now keep them to nil.”

Leigh pushed for a try late on, but Wigan stayed switched on and did a great job to see out the game. I think they knew that it would’ve been a tough week in training if they’d have let Leigh in so late.

That win came at a real cost for Wigan, as during the game they lost Joe Burgess, Lewis Tierney and Ryan Sutton. Then, earlier this week we learned that all of them were set to be out for four to six weeks.

While it’s a huge blow for Shaun Wane, as a fan, I still don’t feel worried. We have got such great depth in our squad and with players like John Bateman and Oliver Gildart to come back in, plus youth prospects such as Liam Marshall, Joe Bretherton, Jack Wells, Tom Davies, Liam Forsyth and Romain Navarette. I think we’ve more than enough there to help us through the next month.

Going into this week’s game away at bottom of the table Warrington, (no, I’m not kidding you) we are going to be missing nine players. However, I’m still quite confident we can get the job done. Our forward pack this season has be superb, they’ve put in some real tough shifts to get us over the line. With that, we’ve had the Williams/Leuluai combination that’s been terrific, along with Escaré just behind them, it’s been a joy to watch so far.

Warrington have had such a poor start to the season, having lost three from three. With Wigan having won three from three, the majority are thinking that it’s written in the stars for us to lose. While it’s a must win for Tony Smith and his players, Shaun Wane will see it as a great opportunity to go eight points clear of Warrington. Even so early in the season, that’s a huge deficit to make up.

Ben Reid

The Man of the People. Renowned for his eccentric behaviour as much as his entertaining, improvised brand of rugby, Anthony Gelling is undoubtedly a cult hero amongst the Wigan fans. Against Leigh, though, we once again saw the madcap side of this talented yet erratic player. Kicking a second ball already on the pitch towards the play of the ball instead of off the pitch was never the smartest of moves, and was probably lucky not to have earned 10 minutes on the sidelines, which could have cost Wigan dearly. As lovable a character as he may be, is Gelling disciplined enough to be a top class centre?

Signed at the end of 2011 having been sacked by Sydney Roosters youth team, Gelling quickly became one of Shaun Wane’s projects.

Other than seeing local lads come through to the first team nothing seems to please Wane more than taking a rough diamond and turning them into a fully rounded player. After an erratic first couple of seasons Gelling has now become one of the most dangerous players in the Warriors side, attacking with pace, and the ability to offload in the most unlikely of circumstances, scoring and creating tries in abundance.

The downside to his game is he can be man-of-the-match one week and drop half a dozen passes and miss vital tackles the next. He still retains the habit of shooting out of the defensive line, much like his predecessor Darrell Goulding – a great play if it comes off – but frequently exposing his winger when it doesn’t. He is regularly saved by John Bateman covering his lapses, which would otherwise prove much more costly. His insistence on overplaying in the tightest of spaces also means he is as likely to throw a ball into touch or give a hospital pass to his winger as he is to set up a try with a freakish offload.

How then to balance the maverick with discipline needed? Having been at the club for over five years now it seems Gelling’s non-adherence to defensive structures or safety first play is unlikely to change dramatically, and would we really want it to?

In a game that in recent years has become more and more about not conceding points and position on the field rather than dynamic open play, Gelling’s ability to create out of nothing is a breath of fresh air. For his passion for the club and the fans and his ability to entertain both on and off the pitch, be it charging down penalty kicks or cycling to matches on his BMX, we can surely forgive a try or two conceded at the other end.

Jon Lyon

On Friday night against Leigh, Liam Marshall made his competitive debut and a good debut at that. I enjoyed watching his strong running style much akin to Dom Manfredi.

Liam Marshall, son of former winger David Marshall who played for the cherry and whites in the late ‘80s, could potentially make history I thought. Bear with me one moment.

Now, we heard about the Burgess brothers over in Australia making history as the first time four brothers had played on the same team since Adam was a lad.

But one thing I think about is, I wonder what the record is for number of sons (on the same team/pitch) whose fathers have also played for that team is. You get a lot of sons following in their father’s footsteps competing in all sports, at present for example there’s the likes of Stuart Broad (son of Chris) playing cricket for England, Alex Oxlaide-Chamberlain (son of Mark Chamberlain) playing football for England and Ross Moriarty (son of Paul) playing rugby union for Wales. It’s not something new, it’s been happening for years but what makes it so special at Wigan is there could potentially be five players on the pitch at the same time whose fathers have also played for the club. That’s got to be some record.

We have Liam Marshall (David Marshall), Oliver Gildart (Ian Gildart), Lewis Tierney (Jason Robinson), Sean O’Loughlin (Kieron O’Loughlin) and Kyle Shelford (Adrian Shelford). And if injuries get really bad we could call up U16s halfback and son of Richard Russell, Ollie Russell making it six.

Surely that must be some sort of record.

One thing is for sure, it’s great to see the sons of former players playing for the famous cherry and whites but there are two empty slots that I would love to fill.

Step forward sons of Andy Farrell and Mike Ford. Owen Farrell would be another John Bateman type player with a great kicking game and George Ford could pull the strings at seven. Fingers crossed eh?

Robert Kenyon