The 18th Man Column: Sadly, pitch battle is likely to run and run

George Williams in action against Widnes
George Williams in action against Widnes

Our fans’ panel are happy to address other topics this week but one dominates...

Well? What about all that palaver last week about where the game would be played?

The game was off, then it was on again and I’m sure most of us had our head in our hands or were shaking our heads in embarrassment. The recently crowned World Champions told they can’t play their home game due to a Championship football game (again I’m shaking my head in disbelief). It would be the easy and lazy thing to do in making this a rugby v football argument but it’s a lot more complicated than that. It would be easy for people to point the finger at Ian Lenagan and point out that he should have shown more substance and told them where to go, but it’s not that simple. By the way, if I were Lenagan I’d be making a formal complaint to the chairman of the Football League about this debacle (said with tongue firmly in cheek).

People will be saying: “I thought the pitch was relaid so this wouldn’t happen again?” – That old chestnut.

“But the pitch was redone with special fibres to keep the pitch together.”

It’s not as simple as just relaying the pitch, it’s a bit like putting a bandage on a gangrenous limb, it masks the problem for a while but won’t make it go away, the problem is going to need to be addressed.

I’m no horticulturist or terra firma technician but I’ve done a bit of research and here is my two-penneth to what the issue is.

Location of the stadium first and foremost, it’s not something we can change but it is a valid point when we keep suffering from a poor playing surface. The issue gives a clue in the name of the area in which the stadium was built, Marsh Green. It would have got its name hundreds of years ago like Garswood (Garths Wood) from what was there like most places in this country. It must have been and still is marshland. So straight away the stadium/pitch is on marshland.

Like I touched on before it isn’t the fault of rugby league games being played on the pitch and it irks me when I hear people from football who have probably never visited the ground comment that the pitch is bad and it’s the rugby’s fault.

If that were the case how do the groundsmen at the KC Stadium (Hull FC and Hull City), Keepmoat (Both Doncasters), Madejski (Reading and London Irish), Memorial Ground (Bristol Rovers and Bristol Rugby), The Shay (Both Halifax teams) and Spotland (Both Rochdale teams) manage? I’ve never heard anyone comment on any of those pitches. Obviously it take a lot of work by the ground staff to make sure these issues don’t happen, don’t get me wrong. The DW Stadium ground staff must be the hardest working in sport but you can’t polish certain things (sorry to be vulgar).

We will keep having these issues until that is addressed so don’t be surprised at the start of next year or the end of this season if there are issues with us using the DW Stadium due to the state of the playing surface.

Would an ultraviolet grow light help? Maybe Lenagan could subsidise this purchase. It may be cheaper than paying fines and compensation to other clubs. Or what would be better is if Lenagan bought the Tesco site and built a modern 30,000 capacity Central Park – that’s a pipe dream, but having our own stadium isn’t. We are the biggest rugby league club in the country with Leeds just behind, I don’t see how we can’t have our own stadium. But that’s another story for another day.

Robert Kenyon

Well what a circus it can be, from World Club Champions flying high on the back of a great series whitewash over the ‘mighty’ Aussies, to playing second fiddle for a lower league footy side in less than a week!

Now don’t get me wrong, even though it ruined my Friday night out as timing meant I could not actually get to the Widnes game, I do understand the decision and if I am honest it was the right one to make.

I know it’s an inconvenience and no doubt some will miss out on the new home fixture due to holidays etc. but another summer rugby game at home when it is actually summer is worth it in my opinion and to re arrange the fixture at such short notice must have been a logistical nightmare for both Kris Radlinski and his opponents at Widnes.

Well done to them both even if Denis Betts did throw his rattle out of the pram as he was apparently not in the loop.

No doubt the message boards would be full of doomsayers and people calling for all sorts of retributions, I don’t know as I rarely look at them anymore, the nearest I get is my twitter feed @dwrudd, but I think that the whole affair was handled with great professionalism and respect from both clubs involved.

I do hope that in the fullness of time, some future match conflicts (and there will be some) can be seen in our favour though and so we won’t need to have any more home fixtures at other grounds due to clashes with the Latics.

The door should surely swing both ways eh?

The game itself seemed to be a right seesaw, but the strength in character was what I was hoping for and even in adversity, alongside the emotional roller coaster of the previous few weeks, we showed that we are indeed a champion side.

Next we have to welcome back a few of the Wigan old boys as Leigh come to town. The pre season game against them was only a run out and no real litmus test, the highlight of which was the crowd singing ‘ you’re just a bus stop near Wigan’. No doubt they will be fired up to put on a performance but if we stick to our game plan we should be able to out class the local rivals and make it three from three. Darren Wrudd

Morgan Escaré has already made a big impression at Wigan Warriors – but it will be a travesty if his talent is wasted once fullback Sam Tomkins returns to the side.

The close-season signing from Catalan Dragons has been one of the Cherry and Whites’ star performers in the opening rounds of 2017 and looks to be a shrewd bit of business by head coach Shaun Wane.

The France international is a potent asset in attack when on song, including 27 Super League tries in 2014, second best to winger Joel Monaghan.

However, the fullback lost his number one spot to international and club teammate Tony Gigot in 2016, which saw him struggle to compete for a first team spot.

Escaré has yet to get over the whitewash three appearances into his Wigan adventure, but appears to be revelling in a new lease of life after seeing his game time limited in recent seasons.

The 25-year- old showed his class in attack in the clash with Cronulla Sharks, kicking with confidence on the last tackle and standing in at half back on numerous occasions.

He’s certainly been one of the squad’s stand-out performers, so it seems unfortunate that he could face an all too familiar feeling of frustration once Tomkins returns from injury.

It’s highly unlikely he’ll keep the England star out of his favoured position, so the question is where will he fit in?

Wing could arguably be the first option for the Perpignan-born fullback, but with his small height and frame, he could be targeted by opponents in the air. Another limitation is his defence, which many feel is the reason he lost his spot at the Dragons.

It’s an interesting dilemma for Wane, particularly as Escaré’s fine form as the first-choice kicker means he may well have to pass that responsibility onto someone else should he fail to find a solution when Tomkins is back midway through the campaign.

Competition for places is key to a successful squad and while the Wigan coach will welcome the selection headache, it could be a case of deja vu too far for Escaré.

The Frenchman only signed a one year deal with the Warriors, and given the disappointments he faced with a lack of game time with the Dragons, he could well decide to seek pastures new if he falls out of favour later in the season.

He may even consider his future in the sport, which would be a true waste of his talents. It’s up to him to ensure that doesn’t happen, by building on his promising start at the DW Stadium and making himself a fixture in the side.

Josh McAllister

Wigan managed to turn up for the last 20 minutes against Widnes, and narrowly get the win.

It wasn’t the greatest of games from the Warriors, as they trailed 26-12 with just 20 minutes to go. Shaun Wane’s men produced a stunning comeback in which they scored four tries to secure a 28-26 win. The performance was never the big thing this week, it was about getting the two points.

However, the match was always going to be overlooked by what happened in the 24 hours prior to the game.

Wigan went from being on top of the world, to being six feet under in just four days. The farcical chain of events that began on Thursday night was to make Wigan seem it was run like a pub team.

I felt for the coaches and players of both sides, as it was something that they had no say on, but affected them the most. It was a credit to them that they managed to put on a great game of rugby league.

Speaking of credit, there need to be huge ones going to Widnes and their staff for hosting the game in such short notice. To get the staff in to work on the bars, turnstiles and security was a great effort. To just get the stadium operational, and ready to host a Super League game was superb.

There’s real anticipation going into this week’s clash of the borough with Leigh. The Centurions produced a remarkable result last week, by beating St Helens 24-16 at Leigh Sports Village. They now have their first win since they returned to Super League, and they’ll now have their heads up high and be ready looking to cause a shock at the DW this Friday.

Shaun Wane will know how well Leigh have played in their last two games against Leeds and Saints, and he won’t be taking them lightly.

However, if Wigan play to their best, then they should sweep Leigh aside, with no real problems. With Oliver Gildart getting a rest this week, Wane teased that we may get to see the debut of Liam Marshall on the wing, with Burgess potentially moving to centre.

Wane will once again unleash a new, young talent onto the Super League, and I for one, am looking forward to the prospect.

Ben Reid

Away from “pitch-gate” this week and what was a very impressive come back from Wigan – Toronto made their competitive debut in the Challenge Cup against Siddal.

Who would have thought, a few years ago, that Siddal v Toronto would be a Challenge Cup tie, broadcast by the BBC! For those who watched it online, it was everything you would want the game to be, played in muddy conditions, a close score line, a red card and the camera, inadvertently capturing someone relieving themselves in the bushes (only in rugby league!).

I have been watching the development of the Toronto club with interest since the official announcement last season from CEO, Eric Perez and to be honest, I have been watching the developments with the typical rugby league fan’s cynical mind and opinion of, ‘it will never work.’

Examples of Celtic Crusaders, Gateshead Thunder, Paris St Germain etc etc leave us with not too much optimism for the success of the world’s first Trans-Atlantic team.

However, I must confess, I am impressed. Everything they have done so far has been classy, stylish and for me, exactly what rugby league needs.

Their sponsorship deal with AirTransat is said to be the biggest sponsorship deal ever seen outside the Super League. Their kit sponsorship with Kappa has produced two very nice kits, which will appeal to those in the UK who are looking to purchase the very first Toronto jersey.

The Wolfpack have sold nearly 5,000 season tickets for their inaugural season in League One.

That is incredibly impressive, an attendance of 5,000 at a London Broncos game would be seen as an achievement, to have a guaranteed 5,000 fans at Toronto v Barrow Raiders for example, is remarkable. They are filling column inches in the UK and Canada, a simple Google search shows recent reports in The Guardian, The Telegraph, The Independent as well as Australian newspapers.

Last week, their travel packages for away supporters were released and they are very competitively priced and when Toronto get to the Super League, I can imagine these being very popular.

The costs, depending on the time of year, are very similar with a typical Catalans away trip – the first time Wigan play in Toronto, expect a lot of Wiganers making the trip over!

Eric Perez looks to be a breath of fresh air to rugby league, he is positive about the expansion of the sport and in such a short period, has created a recognisable brand which could pave the way for more expansion teams in North America.

It is still early days of course, but if every expansion team that we have seen fade away in the Super League era had the start that the Wolfpack have created then I think we would be playing a lot more games away from the M62 corridor.

It’s time to get behind Perez and run with the Wolfpack, I hope to see them in Super League as soon as possible.

Sean Lawless

Ignoring the politics surrounding the game for the moment, this was a fantastic result for the Warriors. Widnes is never an easy place to visit particularly with the iPitch but once again Wigan dug deep and somehow found a way to win late on, something that is fast becoming a hallmark of Shaun Wane’s side.

The game started brightly with Wigan taking an early lead against the run of play but aside from a moment of brilliance from Escare, with a clever chip and chase setting up Gildart, there was little for Warriors fans to cheer about until the thrilling final quarter.

Once again the left hand edge of Williams, Farrell, Gildart and Burgess combined well with the latter pairing bagging another four tries between them to continue their prolific start to the season. Although the usually solid defence from Wigan lapsed a few times it was great to see invention in the Warriors tries compared to the early stages of last season when the attack was predictable and one dimensional. Escare in particular has added that X factor that has been missing and has settled in so quickly it’s hard to believe he can barely speak English.

Both sides seemed a little unsettled by the on/off saga and Widnes performed admirably without their first choice halfback pairing, getting into the Warriors faces and unsettling the flow at every opportunity but the Vikings ran out of steam and just had no answer to the Wigan fightback where they managed to post four unanswered tries.

Next up for the Warriors is a home game against local rivals Leigh who will be looking to build on their impressive win against an out of sorts St Helens. Leigh have shown glimpses of what they are capable of this season and finally put in a performance for the 80 minutes. The Centurions would love nothing more than to beat Wigan on their own turf and I am sure after the exertions of the last two weeks we will see Wane utilising his squad, so the Warriors will need to be on their guard for this one.

Finally the pitch saga has left a really bitter taste in the mouth of not just Wigan fans but rugby league fans in general.

Obviously the investigation may shed some light on Wigan’s actions and whether or not they conducted themselves accordingly. I have no doubt that Ian Lenagan acted in Wigan’s best interests but the one area in which the club let themselves down is communication and this is no different.

Widnes say they weren’t consulted and were merely informed of the decision 30 minutes before Wigan released a statement and the RFL didn’t say too much on the matter other than an investigation will be launched. If Wigan didn’t follow the correct procedure and are docked points then I feel sorry for the players that put the effort in to win the game and the fans that turned out in their droves (approximately 2000 were there on Friday) as neither the players or the fans were at fault for the debacle.

David Bailey