The 18th man column: Warriors fans have their say

Michael McIlorum crosses for a try. Photo: Brian King

Michael McIlorum crosses for a try. Photo: Brian King

GIVEN the pitch was in such a dire state, I thought that was a very efficient start to the season by Wigan last Friday.

It was hard to judge anything after a match in a mud bath but the deciding moments came early on when after 20 minutes or so the handling error count was 7-0 in Wigan’s favour. That difference early on basically settled the match.

We did see some poor execution early in the game, particularly the tactic of going for kicks early in the tackle count, but generally I thought it was a good hard working display and it was all about the result at the end of it. The one thing I was bemused about though was that we didn’t even once attempt a drop goal after going 12-6 ahead with 29 minutes to go. To me it was blindly obvious that making enough metres down field to score once was a hard enough task, never mind twice, so why no attempts to make it 13-6?

To be fair we did get two tries down the left chalked off but I kept saying on the radio that when we got in attacking range that we needed to get points, whether 1, 2, 4 or 6, because it would have been devastating had they nicked a 12-12 draw. That was always that risk until the hooter sounded but thankfully they didn’t and we got the win that was deserved.

We now head off to Huddersfield and it’s certainly away from home that Wigan need to vastly improve this season. We only collected nine out of 28 available points on away trips last year which in my view explained why we fell short in the Grand Final. I reckon getting big results consistently away from home boosts confidence and belief so much more than winning at home does and for us to get back into the trophy winners circle I think we need to start going into backyards and stamping bigger authority that we did in 2015.

In fairness, Huddersfield was one of the away days we were successful on last year but we can still make a big statement with a good win this Friday. That’s what I’m hoping for and the key is stretching some good patches were finding last season into 80 minute performances. Let’s hope we can make it two out of two and come home Friday night very satisfied with the start to the season.

Bilko

Wigan Warriors started their 2016 Super League campaign with a hard-fought 12-6 win against Catalan Dragons, in conditions akin to winter rugby in the days before Super League started.

The DW pitch resembled a mud bath with the incessant rain making ball retention a real issue.

Wigan handled the conditions much better than their French counterparts who dropped the ball with alarming regularity. Even the return of former Wigan winger Pat Richards who was making his debut for Catalan couldn’t prevent a defeat for his new side.

Kieron Cunningham the St Helens coach had said last week that rugby league in this country is played in three seasons - the cold and wet start, a dry period in the middle and then cold and damp in the autumn and his words were proved right here at a very cold and wet DW Stadium.

It is difficult to judge the prospects for both teams in such conditions but pleasingly for Wigan fans, their defence was solid and aggressive which bodes well for the season ahead.

Wigan now travel to Huddersfield for their next fixture and will be hoping for another win against a team who have some real injury concerns already.

During their 30-16 defeat to St Helens on Friday, Huddersfield lost Joe Wardle before the kick off and then saw Danny Brough and Scott Grix forced from the field with a dead leg and dislocated shoulder respectively.

These injuries added to Robinson, Wood and Huby should see Wigan feeling confident of returning with two wins from their first two games.

With the return of the Tomkins brothers to add to this Wigan side, there is much to feel confident about especially once the pitches dry up and the talents of Williams and Manfredi can be fully utilised.

Shaun Wane can be rightly pleased about his sides completion rate even if it did lower in the second half, and his pack stood up well to what is consistently a big aggressive set of Catalan forwards.

Wigan’s next game at home will be the World Club Challenge match against the Brisbane Broncos as part of the three game series and all English rugby league fans will be hoping for drier conditions to make for a much better spectacle.

Stuart McGuire

It’s back.

Super League is up and running thanks to a close game between Leeds and Warrington.

But it was all eyes on the DW as supporters wondered could Wigan shun their bad starts.

On a pitch that looked more like a bog Wigan slugged out the win. Catalans coughed up way too many mistakes but in awful conditions.

Micky Mac scored two tries in a game that wasn’t pretty to watch.

But what impressed me was our defence it was rock solid. In better conditions we could have won by 20 plus some dodgy decisions. Impressive for first game of the season were McIlorum followed by O’Loughlin.

Matty Smith was bang on with his kicking game, always splitting the full-back and winger. This was hard earned two points and Friday’s game at Huddersfield will be the same. But although Isa was good this Wigan team seemed to benefit from being together as a team. Waney said the lads were still smarting from the Grand Final and at times the determination showed it.

We will be among the contenders this season again without doubt. Finally it was good to see Josh Charnley playing with a lot more confidence.

Joe Charnock

Wigan Warriors simply got the job done in treacherous conditions at the DW Stadium as they beat French side Catalans Dragons 12-6 in their Super League opener on Friday.

Shaun Wane’s target before the game was to simply get the two points and his side certainly did that in what was a forwards game due to sloppy conditions against a huge Catalans side.

I completely agree with Wane’s aims, with the club having a poor record on the opening game of the season in the past. It was all about just starting well and kicking on from there into the rest of the campaign.

Full-back Lewis Tierney coped well with the high bombs from Todd Carney, Richie Myler and of course, Pat Richards. Tierney played in weather that didn’t compliment his style of play but he handled it well and took it in his stride – and most importantly, didn’t look out of place in spine of the team.

Our defence showed grit and strength to keep the big Catalans team out to just a single try which was good to see, especially with the ball being driven through the middle all game.

But the one Cherry and Whites player who really stood out on the night was hooker Micky McIlorum. He stopped everything in his path, every pass went right into the breadbasket of a team-mate and made countless metres with his dummy-half runs.

Wigan didn’t chance to play their expansive style of rugby on the night so it is something we can all look forward to in the season ahead, particularly with George Williams and Sam Powell playing the best rugby of their careers at the minute.

Drew Darbyshire

Wigan hosted Catalans for the season opener and given the Dragons poor form on the road.

And in the difficult conditions Shaun Wane must have been licking his lips as Wigan are notoriously slow starters.

The game was a throwback to the days of winter rugby thanks to the conditions and the terrible state of the DW pitch, which is worrying as a rugby ball hadn’t been kicked on the pitch in anger in over four months.

But Wigan played the conditions perfectly for the first 30 minutes. It was all about territory and forcing a mistake and after 14 minutes Wigan capitalised on a poor pass in the Dragons 10 metre area.

Micky McIlorum pounced on a stray ball to slide over close to the posts. Matty Smith will have nightmares about the conversion attempt which should have been straightforward but came back off the posts. All the more ironic considering the Chairman was asked on a local radio phone in the night before if he was satisfied with Wigan’s goal kicking options and he proudly announced that Jonny Wilkinson had been in working with Smith, Charnley and Williams.

The fact that Pat Richards was making his 200th Super League appearance for the opposition just another painful reminder for Wigan fans.

Three minutes later and McIlorum was in again from a similar position but this time it was good work from Williams which created the opening, drawing three defenders and flicking a neat pass out of the tackle. Smith converted for a 10 – 0 lead which Wigan took into the break.

The second half started dreadfully with Tierney unable to judge Richards’ kick-off (how many times will we say that this season) and then compounding the error by allowing Horo to beat him to a grubber kick into the in goal.

There was little else to talk about in the second half. Smith hit a penalty 10 minutes later giving Wigan a 6-point lead, and that ended the scoring, Wigan surprisingly didn’t set-up for a drop-goal.

Both sides will feel they have plenty to work on but Wigan will be happy with a winning start. Next up for Wigan is a trip to the Huddersfield Giants, who will be smarting after their opening defeat to St Helens. The Warriors will be looking for another win to take some confidence into the Brisbane game.

David Bailey

Friday night was not a good night for free flowing rugby. A short cut pitch due to the football season, with months of rain, was not helped by a major downpour prior to the game which turned what can be a special pitch into something resembling a swamp.

The opening 20 minutes belonged to Wigan, culminating in a quick-fire double for McIlorum.

Wigan continues to boss the first half with Catalans only getting a foothold in the game towards the end.

The second half started badly for the Warriors with mistakes coming off early kick offs. A quick try from Catalans set up a nervy half. During the second half Wigan had two tries ruled out by the video ref somewhat dubiously.

Overall a decent hit up in terrible conditions. I don’t think we saw any of the attacking flair expected from Wigan.

The conditions the main winner on the night. Neither team was really able to play good hard fast rugby.

Bateman, Gelling and McIlorum were the best on the night.

Looking towards the next game I would be looking for our forwards to take a bit more of a stranglehold on the game. Perhaps an improvement in our defence, the first hit needs to be better, too often against Catalan the first contact in the tackle was not good enough allowing the attacking line to gain momentum.

This week Wayne Bennett has been unveiled as the England coach for the next two years. In my opinion a masterstroke. Finally we have a coach with a proven record both international and domestic, and someone who has been picked on merit rather than just the best of a bad bunch because they are English.

I agree it should eventually be an English coach, unfortunately I don’t think the set-up is ready for it. At club level we seem to have structure that seems to work at the highest level, and is improving the lower stature clubs. The England set up seems to change and have no real stability, or anyone in place with the strength to change anything.

We finally have a coach to match the calibre of the players and I look forward to watching us in the World Cup with Wayne Bennett at the helm. Who knows…. We might finally get one over on the Aussies!

Adam Lancaster