The 18th man: ‘One of the finest to pull on the cherry and white’

Sean O'Loughlin scoring against Widnes
Sean O'Loughlin scoring against Widnes

Our 18th man columnists look ahead to Wolves clash and salute Sean O’Loughlin ahead of 400th game...

Going into the Catalans game, looking at the team sheet and especially the strength of the bench players, I thought we had them before a ball was played.

It’s not often I have felt this in 2017, more often it has been a feeling that we can do it, but will we?

The big question now is can we continue to improve and keep players fit, that will go a long way to the chances of a top-four finish.

We should not get carried away though as we still lay in seventh place and are far from on top form.

What we have, though, is a professional team both on and off the field.

The backroom staff handled the absence of Shaun Wane very smoothly with the news he has had his hip operation.

Perhaps he won’t be as grumpy now, but then again….

Back at home tonight, the boys will want to carry on from where they left off, and with a captain making his 400th appearance for his hometown club, I am sure they will want to put in a shift on his behalf.

Sean O’Loughlin has been immense for this club, and much of our success rides on his shoulders.

Always a fierce competitor, he never shies away from doing the hard graft up the middle, but with such ability on the ball, he could easily have made the half back position his.

Imagine that, Lockers at half back, how big would our forwards need to be to balance that one!

I would like to offer my congratulations to Sean – a more genuine and decent lad you could not come across.

Darren Wrudd

Back-to-back wins and all is good with the world again. Maybe that’s a little far-fetched, but now top-8 rugby is assured we can start to look towards the top of the table rather than downwards.

A hard-fought win, with an ultimately flattering scoreline, thanks to George Williams’ creativity and Joe Burgess’ finishing prowess, and things don’t seem quite as bleak as a couple of weeks ago.

A top-four spot looked a long shot after so long without a win, but we now sit just four points off the holy grail, and with Castleford playing Salford and Leeds playing Hull this week it is of vital importance we keep the momentum going with a win against Warrington tonight and make up yet more ground on those above us.

One reason for our improved results of late has been what appears to be the solution to our long-standing goalkicking issues.

It may be a bit early to say for sure, but Williams looks to have added another useful arrow to his bow.

Having tried numerous players without any real success since Pat Richards, the last few weeks have seen Williams’s goalkicking reach an almost comic book level of improvement.

Much like Dead Shot Keen’s boots in Roy of the Rovers, I can only presume George found a dusty old carrier bag deep in the heart of his attic containing a long-lost pair of Frano Botica’s footwear, for his accuracy even from the touchline has been outstanding.

While reluctant to heap yet more pressure on our young playmaker’s shoulders, Shaun Wane must be mightily relieved by this timely improvement with the business end of the season approaching.

On to Warrington and the one sour note is Liam Farrell missing out with a knee injury, sustained against Catalans.

Whoever comes into the side will have to do an awful lot of work as the Ginger Pearl never stops tackling or taking the ball forward a big loss.

If not just for the two points then we should be looking to win the game for Sean O’Loughlin as he makes his 400th appearance for Wigan, becoming only the 11th player in the club’s history to do so.

Lockers has proved himself one of the finest players to pull on the cherry and white, and is up there with our ridiculously-talented list of modern great loose forwards alongside Hanley, Clarke and Farrell.

One final thought, how good it will be to see Ben Currie back for Warrington, a great young talent for club and country, and I hope his comeback from a serious knee injury goes well...just not too well.

Jon Lyon

As I write this, I’m sat on the plane home from Catalans away!

What a weekend it’s been. Honestly, for any rugby league fan reading this who’s not been, it’s a must, get it on your bucket list right now.

I got to the stadium in time to watch the under-19s, who finished up 44-10 winners, despite

being down to 12 men from the first half.

From then on, it felt like it was going to be a good day to be a Wiganer.

The game itself was so intense. We made hard work of it for a good hour, then found our second wind, and blew them away.

Which was ironic, as there was no wind blowing the fans’ way all afternoon.

The first half was tough, and at times, a tale of same old, same old – as we looked great in defence, but lacked any sort of urgency in attack.

The second half started with much more of the same, as we just couldn’t seem to get anything significant going, and went behind early on.

However, the final 20 minutes was superb. It was near-perfect rugby league, and it seemed as if we had a gameplan to get to this point.

If we did, it was played out perfect, as Catalan tired, we hit our stride, and went over for four tries to make it seem more of a walkover than it really was.

We’re now unbeaten in four games, and have back-to- back wins in the league for the first time in what feels like years.

We sit four points off fourth-placed Hull FC and just five points off Salford, who sit third.

Things are not only starting to look up, but it’s now getting very interesting.

We’ve another huge game tonight, in what’s been a quick turnaround.

The lads flew straight home Saturday night, so they should be good to go.

Warrington had a huge, morale-boosting win last week themselves, so it should be a good game. I expect them to turn up and give it a real go.

However, I just feel we’ve a bit more confidence around the camp to get the win, and (say it quietly) that would put us just two points off a top-four spot.

Ben Reid

Last Saturday was my first trip to Catalans and it felt like the whole of Wigan descended on Perpignan!

If there was ever a place, a club and an area that showcases the need for good expansion in rugby league – Catalans is it.

Like many, we spent a few hours before the game at Le Castillet, taking in the French sunshine and a couple of French beers. Try telling the local bar owners in that area that Super League expansion doesn’t work or isn’t a good idea.

You got the feeling all their Christmases had come at once, with 1,500 thirsty Wiganers!

The fans did their team and themselves proud and the locals enjoyed it as well!

What followed on Saturday was a very good win, perhaps the exact kind of win Wigan needed. I thought Catalans produced one of their best performances for 60 minutes, and the pleasing thing from a Wigan point of view, was that we keep their score down andlooked to grind out a victory.

The last 20 minutes flattered Wigan in terms of the scoreline with Catalans falling off tackles and Wigan’s fitness proving too much, but a vast improved defensive display that will do wonders for Wigan ahead of their run of three crucial games.

The axis of Tomkins, Leuluai, Williams, McIlorum and O’Loughlin is starting to look as good as it does on paper, a few more weeks and I think we could see something special.

My biggest concern from the weekend is the humid conditions from Saturday followed by the short turnaround to the Warrington game, and how much Saturday took on the players .

We will find out tonight, but another improved performance and another win – bring on Warrington.

Sean Lawless

What a difference a couple of weeks make.

Wigan produced one of their best performances (notably the second half) for quite a while to secure their first away win in the league for almost three months since Wakefield were defeated in April.

Catalans desperately needed the points to try and avoid the Middle 8’s, while Wigan required the win to secure their place in the Super 8’s.

The Dragons came at Wigan at full tilt and controlled territory and possession for the first quarter, in particular forcing repeat sets and making the Warriors play on the back foot.

It was only after the hour mark that Wigan finally pulled away, assisted by a Joe Burgess hat-trick, and another impressive kicking performance from George Williams.

An impressive following of up to 2,000 fans made the trip which was noted by the Dragons as contributing to an excellent atmosphere.

Makes you think if Salford have jumped the gun in praising their fans for outnumbering Wigan for the semi-final with still a couple of weeks to go.

Back in Super League and this week is again a must-win for the Warriors (seems that this phrase is now being trotted out every week) as they could condemn Warrington to the Middle 8’s.

Wigan and St Helen’s could really start putting pressure on the teams above them if they continue winning games.

I said if Wigan were within three or four points of fourth place when the Super 8’s started they would fancy their chances.

With the top top playing each other this weekend, the Warriors know a victory against Warrington will apply some more pressure.

Despite impressive seasons from Hull, Salford, Wakefield and Castleford in particular, I can’t help but feel the experience (both on and off the field) will stand Wigan, Leeds and Saints in good stead as the run in approaches, and I can’t see past one of these three teams winning the Grand Final again when the pressure is on.

In fact one former Sky Sports RL expert seemed to suggest it would be in Castleford’s best interests to strategically lose games in order to prevent the Warriors from reaching the top four, which caused quite a stir on social media – not least because he suggested Wigan are more of a threat than the teams above them to Castleford’s Grand Final aspirations.

Liam Farrell picked up a knock against Catalans which rules him out of contention this week.

Sam Tomkins should recover from a dead leg and, with Joel Tomkins and Dom Mandfredi just weeks away, it looks like (touch wood), Shaun Wane will have the strongest squad of the season in readiness for the Challenge Cup semi-final and the Super 8’s.

Make no mistake, the Warriors are still yet to fire on all cylinders both in attack and defence this season.

But if they do, someone could be on the end of a heavy defeat.

David Bailey

First of all, we are definitely in the middle 8s after the victory at Catalans which we were in control of from start to finish. We do seem to be getting better week on week – I thought George Williams’ kicking was sure fire and Joe Burgess keeps showing us how good he is.

I like Burgess – he’s a traditional winger, who you just need to get the ball to him out wide and he’ll finish it for you, as he’s blessed with tremendous pace.

This week we face Warrington in the Big One.

We are missing Liam Farrell but welcome back the dangerous Liam Marshall, who has a great tryscoring record against Warrington.

Warrington welcome back Ben Currie and Mike Cooper and are missing Ben Westwood.

The game against Wire is also Sean O’Loughlins 400th game, and what a player he has been.

I think he’s fantastic and a living legend.

Lockers’ career started a lot differently to what it is now and, in my opinion, I’d say three major things impacted his career.

Firstly was gaining the captaincy from then-coach Ian Millward in 2006, after coming back from a long-term injury in 2005.

As a team we had lost our leaders and were fighting relegation, not only that but Lockers was being a scapegoat along with other senior members of the team for this, and I think he developed a tougher skin.

Certain fans thought he didn’t care and shouldn’t have been captain as he was too quiet after having Farrell as our captain, who was constantly barking out orders on the pitch to a different style of leadership.

Now people say that Lockers isn’t a baller and shouter.

But make no mistake – he certainly isn’t a shrinking violet, he’s not afraid to voice his opinion on the pitch, and we struggle when he doesn’t play. It goes to show how much of an impact he has on the team.

All you have to do is look at our trophy cabinet from 2010 onwards to see how much of an impact he’s had.

2007 saw the introduction of Trent Barrett, which rubbed off on Lockers,.

After the season before his arrival took a lot of pressure off Lockers and allowed him to mature and grow.

This along with the man-management of Brian Noble would have rebuilt his confidence after 2006 and all the unnecessary stick he got.

2010, and with the arrival of Michael Maguire, our style of play changed and we went from nearly men to winners which continues to this day.

When Lockers first started for Wigan, a few people wondered whether it was ties to Andy Farrell as the reason behind it.

I bet you won’t get many who will admit to that now.

If I’m honest, I think there’s a very difficult question out there for all Wigan fans, and that’s who was better? Farrell or O’Loughlin? It’s a tough one.

Lockers has overtaken Farrell in number of games for Wigan now, and if I’m brutally honest, probably overtaken in him my mind on who was better.

It’s a tough question but what do you think? Who was better?

Well, I’ll be watching Lockers closely until he retires and soak it all up as he is a once-in-a-generation player, and the last great traditional loose forward in my opinion.

Well done Sean! Long may it continue!

Rob Kenyon