Our 18th man columnists discuss World Club, Widnes, and Sunday fixtures.
Heroic, committed, passionate, brutal - are words that describe the whole team in the win on Saturday but for me, they also describe a player who made his 100th appearance for Wigan against Cronulla - Sam Powell.
A year ago McIlorum got injured in the World Club Series game against Brisbane and for many fans (me included), I thought we needed to sign a hooker straight away, there was no way we could cope with his absence by promoting from within. How wrong we have been. Powell has been magnificent and was my man of the match on Saturday, for a converted half back, his aggression in defence is only to be matched by McIlorum and Leuluai.
His reading of the game from dummy half has also improved massively over the past year. If England weren’t so blessed in the number 9 role, he would surely be a candidate for international honours.
If there was ever a player that deserves a rewarding, long contract it’s Sam Powell – get him signed up! What a selection headache Shaun Wane will have trying to get McIlorum, Powell, Leuluai, Williams, Tomkins and Escaré into his team – what a great position to be (if everyone gets fit!).
Speaking of Escaré, on Saturday, we were sat in front of Morgan Escaré’s family and Éloi Pélissier who was at the match to cheer on his ex-Catalan team-mate. If you thought the Wigan fans were passionate, French Wiganers are equally so! There was a great moment at the end of
the game when Escaré’s father was so overcome with pride, he started crying and banging his Wigan crest on his coat with great passion; a Wigan fan handed him his handkerchief to dry his tears, a wonderful moment to witness. What a journey for Escaré, dropped from the Catalans team last year, making just 10 appearances for the Dragons to becoming a World Champion with a very solid performance for the Warriors. Welcome to Wigan, Morgan and family - allez les cerises et blancs!
Walking out of the DW Stadium on Sunday, I had never been more proud to be a Wigan Warriors fan. Being World Champions was something that I never thought would come along.
The match itself was a real rough and tough affair between two champion sides. The Wigan defence throughout, was outstanding. The grit, passion and desire the players shown was to be admired. It was an experience that will last a lifetime, for fans, players, coaches and staff at Wigan Warriors.
The returning Joe Burgess ran in for only the second hat-trick in WCC history, and it was a day for history as Oliver Gildart and Lewis Tierney followed in their fathers, Ian Gildart and Jason Robinson’s footsteps by becoming World Champions.
It was a superb couple of days for Super League, with Warrington doing a job on Brisbane the night before. It’s always nice getting one over on the Aussies, but it makes it more satisfying when it’s your team becoming World Champions.
It’s a short celebration week for Wigan as they are to get themselves ready for a return to Super League action, when they host Widnes Vikings this Friday. Wigan have a little score to settle as last season Widnes beat the Warriors twice at the DW.
Something that I’m sure is in the back of Shaun Wane’s mind. Widnes had a poor start to the season, losing 28-16 at home to last season’s strugglers, Huddersfield. Something that Denis Betts will want to rectify this week.
After just two competitive games together, the combination of Williams and Leuluai looks to be a good one. Morgan Escaré has already gained a lot of praise from Wigan fans, and I’m sure he’ll be looking to continue that in his first league home game for Wigan. I don’t think there’s a better combination in Super League than Burgess, Gildart and Farrell. They’ve been superb in the first two games this season, with most of the tries coming down that side.
Just when Widnes think they have enough to worry about, there’s also Tierney, Gelling and Bateman on the other wing.
Wigan will have too much for Widnes on Friday, and if they play anywhere close to what they did against Cronulla this season, they’ll be a very tough side to beat.
Wigan Warriors - World Club Champions… I’ll just leave that there for a minute.
Right, has that sunk in yet? No? Me neither.
Shaun Wane’s men triumphed in a gritty hard fought error strewn World Club Challenge but you won’t hear many people complaining. It’s worth mentioning that the Sharks could quite easily have had two tries given by the video referee so despite the flattering 22-6 scoreline this wasn’t an easy game by any stretch of the imagination.
Wigan coughed up possession cheaply and early, captain Sean O’Loughlin dropping a simple pass, but the theme of the day (and probably continuing from last season) was Wigan’s resilient defence which stood firm. Wigan caught an early break when once again the left hand combinations of Williams, Farrell, Gildart and Burgess found some space and Budgie athletically finished in the corner.
Escare missed a tricky kick but that was his only blemish in an accomplished display. On current form Sam Tomkins is going to have a wrestle for the fullback shirt when he returns to fitness.
Straight from the restart though the pressure told again when Williams knocked on from the kick with no one around him, but once again Wigan stood firm. A quarter of the way through the game and Wigan ventured into the Sharks half and Gildart again gave Burgess some space and he jinked inside to take the lead to double figures following Escare’s conversion. The match was fiercely contested with not an inch being given by either side and the score remained 10-0 at the break.
Wigan started the second half brightly and some great work from Escare set Gildart up, he still had some defenders to beat but managed to evade them. Escare’s boot giving Wigan a 16-0 lead but this still didn’t look comfortable. The Warriors began to fade and their defence eventually caved, debutant Raimen managing to touch down a grubber after Burgess completely missed the clearance with his hand.
Cronulla at this point were in control but forcing the issue as they were two scores behind and Wigan scrambled magnificently.
Then in the dying embers of the game Wigan managed to get a scrum deep in the Sharks territory and Williams’ perfectly weighted kick was pounced upon by Joe Burgess to seal his hat-trick on his return to the DW (and only the second in WCC history). After being branded in some parts as a failure in the NRL it was a terrific response to his critics and it’s great to see him and Williams haven’t lost that almost telepathic understanding.
Having grown up with Wigan in the eighties and nineties, and seeing Wigan win the World Club Challenge three times (twice in the flesh) but also endured the defeats lately against St George-Illawarra and the Roosters, it’s only now you realise how much an achievement this is and how spoiled we were back then.
Wigan are now the most successful WCC team in history with 4 wins, Shaun Wane has won the trophy as a player and a coach 30 years apart. Jason Robinson and Ian Gildart can look down as proud dads after their sons Lewis Tierney and Oliver Gildart emulated their feats. FPN became only the third player to win the trophy with teams from both continents. The achievements roll on but no doubt Wane will be looking now to defend both trophies and have a crack at the Challenge Cup, such is the hunger in the fiercely proud Wiganer.
Well what about that then? The best rugby league club in the world, but we knew that already didn’t we?
A wonderful advert for the game as a whole and witnessed by more than 21,000 fans, although if history repeats itself, give it 10 years and there would have been 200,000 there, just like in 1987 as anyone you ask in Wigan can tell you exactly where they were sat!
But that is the fantastic pull of rugby league and when a momentous occasion like this arises, everyone feels a part of it.
The game itself saw some dramatic efforts by our squad who really showed how much it all meant to them, but my stand out player has gone through a metamorphosis over the last 12 months whilst serving what must be the country’s hardest apprenticeship going.
The steep learning curve that Sam Powell went through in 2016 was the making of him as a player and showed just how determined an athlete this young man has become.
The culmination was what we saw on Sunday with a gritty and accomplished show from a confident and talented hooker. Sam has quickly had to become the glue that holds much of what we do together and I think it speaks volumes of the character of the lad that he has come so far.
I feel most pleased I think for Shaun Wane though. I find it hard to believe that social media fools were calling for his head last year, when all the time he was working towards our success. This trophy means so much to the gruff and uncompromising coach, who looked like a big softy with his grandchild in his arms at the end of the game, waving at the fans with a beaming smile. Congratulations go to him, the club and to Ian Lenagan whose ‘cool as a cucumber’ persona almost broke ranks as the confetti rained down.
A big ask for a big team is to regain focus and composure as they come back down to earth for this weeks game against Widnes. Now this will show what character we have in the squad.
Sunday afternoon rugby, I preferred it. After watching Wigan v Cronulla it cemented that belief that we should revert back to Sundays from Friday nights.
People do like the Friday games as the atmosphere is better, I just think when the game is played on a Sunday afternoon it allows for fans who live further afield to attend the games.
It’s something I used to love doing on a Sunday as a kid, playing for my local team then going to Central Park to watch Wigan then back home for Sunday dinner.
Friday night games for me are too much crash bang wallop, you get home from work, showered, shaved, get changed and straight out to the game, after being stuck in traffic you manage to get to the ground on time to throw burger and chips down your neck before getting to your seat ready for kick off.
When people say it’s a better atmosphere on a Friday I agree, it’s mostly generated from irate people ready to explode from all the rushing about. Call me old fashioned but I’d take the Sunday afternoon games every time, or even better, Saturday afternoons. Then, you get the chance to sleep off the few beers from the night before. I don’t think that would work due to ground sharing with Wigan Athletic but I think Sundays could work. The Sunday afternoon games would allow more away fans to attend, that surely would generate an atmosphere. I understand people with families may want to do things on a Sunday afternoon, what better than going to the rugby together as a family.
On a Sunday afternoon it is a more relaxed and family-orientated atmosphere - all the family including granny can attend. Whereas on a Friday night you get a more irate and more ‘lubricated’ custom baying for blood. At the end of the day most games will be dictated by Sky as to when it is played but for all other non televised games I’d love to see a return to Sundays.