The 18th man: ‘Things are slowly starting to look up’

Tony Clubb returned after surgery to remove a kidney
Tony Clubb returned after surgery to remove a kidney

Our 18th man columnists talk Clubb’s return, the win against Widnes and the trip to Catalans...

Just how good was it to see Tony Clubb back on the field on Sunday?

Players celebrate Sean O'Loughlin's opening try

Players celebrate Sean O'Loughlin's opening try

Coming off the bench, the Wigan faithful gave him a great welcome and it is clear to see why he is such a well-respected player in the squad. His instant-impact rocked Widnes as he battered his way through tackles and even crashed over for a welcomed try.

As he gets fitter and can do longer stints at full-pace, he will be invaluable to our chances of success. The same has applied to Sam Tomkins who is picking up his pace and influence on the games, which only adds to our firepower. To read on the Wigan Warriors website that no further injuries were reported after the game put the cherry on top.

Widnes had a real dig at us, like we knew they would. Concentrating as they have done before on slowing the ruck, they were all about spoiling our flow but thank goodness we had a referee who had the backbone to put them in their place and keep them honest(ish). Our game plan to push them hard and fast paid dividends as they could not cope in the end with our pace or quality.

I really felt for the grounds men at half-time as they walked around the pitch, shaking their heads as they surveyed the damaged to the surface which only 40 minutes earlier was pristine.

They repaired what they could and came back at the end to no doubt have a late-night stitching it all back together, and much credit has to go to them for their efforts to keep the pitch in such superb condition.

I do think that perhaps too much is made of the need for a rest and the repair work can leave the surface vulnerable instead of having a well established root system which would cope better. It can’t be that difficult if Leeds can manage it and they play more games on theirs than we do. Still, it has another two weeks to rest and grow again, so no doubt it will be perfect again come game day.

Catalans will be a different prospect this weekend, only two points outside the top-eight they will be desperate to save something from their disappointing season so far. They have a real strike power late in the games at home with the distinct advantage of being used to the hot weather that is often apparent. Teams fade in those conditions and preparation will be very important.

Darren Wrudd

Wigan Warriors are unbeaten in July!

On a serious note, we’re unbeaten in three games now, and things are very slowly starting to look up.

We weren’t great against Widnes on Sunday, it was a real struggle of a game to watch. If it wasn’t for the sunny weather, it would have been a stinker of an afternoon.

I should keep reminding myself that we won, instead of being this negative. But I left feeling like we’d have lost against any other side in the league.

When you look at the side we’ve put out for the last three, it’s only a couple players off our strongest line-up.

I know it’s going to take time for them all to gel together again - and for the likes of John Bateman and Sam Tomkins, it’ll take a couple more games to reach full potential.

All I wanted going into the game with Widnes was a win - yet I still left not feeling totally happy with the afternoon’s viewing.

It may have not been the best performance last Sunday, but we got the win, and that’s all that matters at this stage.

It was great to see Tony Clubb back on the field. Just 58 days after having a kidney removed, he was back out playing one of the toughest sports going – absolute machine!

Not only did he make his return, he also scored (a rather questionable) try.

We currently sit six points off fourth with three to go in the regular season. We must win all three to stand a chance of reaching the play-offs come the end of the Super 8s.

It’s a challenge that I honestly believe we can accomplish, if we don’t lose another game. I make it sound so easy, but it’s going to be a tough road ahead.

This weekend is my first ever trip over to Catalans, and I can’t wait. It’s another huge game for Wigan, and one that I believe is the toughest of our three remaining league games.

It’ll be tough, especially in that French heat. However, we have won on our last two visits, against arguably stronger Catalans sides.

We’ve only lost once in our last 10 games against Catalans, so it’s a team we know how to beat, and it should be no different on Saturday.

Ben Reid

Back to winning ways, not a great performance but a win is a win. The most important thing from Sunday’s game against Widnes was to ensure we got the two points, by any means necessary. Job done.

Next task, visit win in the South of France against Catalans Dragons.

Catalans have been in poor form of late but their epic last minute winner against Leigh will give them belief going into the Wigan game. That seems to be the case for most teams Wigan come up against at the moment, they win the game before giving them a little lift – it was the same with Huddersfield and Widnes.

This year is my first trip to Catalans and I can’t wait for it. Catalans v Wigan games in France are always physical and brutal. A real forwards battle and I am really disappointed that it looks like Greg Bird will be suspended for the game. Although, missing Bird improves Wigan’s chances of winning, I love watching Greg Bird play, he is a real competitor and it’s a shame that we won’t see Sean O’Loughlin v Greg Bird this season.

Three players from Catalans are suspended for Saturday’s game which may swing the advantage in Wigan’s direction. One thing Catalans did show on Saturday in their game against Leigh is that when they want to attack and need to score points – they are very capable of doing that.

Wigan’s biggest test this weekend will be stepping up to the next level in terms of their defence. It improved against Widnes, with two sloppy tries conceded but preventable tries with a bit more luck, their improving defence was epitomised by Joe Burgess’s try saving tackle at 16-12.

That tackle won the game for Wigan and was probably more crucial to the game than his two late tries.

If Wigan continue to improve on their defence then they will beat Catalans, the added option of Sam Tomkins in the line is now ensuring that Wigan’s attack, albeit not free flowing, is effective and will improve the more Leuluai, Williams and Tomkins play together.

Sean Lawless

After the victory against Widnes, I thought our defence had toughened itself up a bit. They managed to score a couple of tries, two from flukey kicks. Our leadership and direction on the pitch was non-existent once Lockers was off the pitch and I think had he not played, we’d have lost that game.

Certain experienced and pivotal players need to step up to the plate and take control and direct the team when he is off the pitch. He isn’t going to play on forever unfortunately and like what happened when we lost Andy Farrell, I fear the same will happen when Lockers goes unless something is done.

This weekend we face Catalans who are missing Garcia, Yaha and Bird through suspension. A victory against the Frenchmen will see us mathematically certain to finish in the top eight, allowing us to concentrate on the Challenge Cup, the only other silverware I see us winning this season apart from the World Club Challenge.

We could in fact finish fourth, if Hull lose their last three games (Saints beat Hull and Wakefield beat Saints but both lose their other two games) and we win out last three games and overturn the 93 +/- points difference with Hull.

I know it’s a longer shot than a snipers rifle but we need something positive to aim for. Joe Burgess played well, scored two and came up with a superb defensive effort to prevent Widnes scoring. I don’t know if I’ve missed the reason behind Liam Marshall not playing but I’d rather play him than Tierney, don’t get me wrong, Tierney works his socks off but I think that’s his downfall sometimes as he goes looking for work in defence leaving a gap on the wing.

I think we are more dangerous out wide with Marshall on the wing instead of Tierney.

It was good to see Tony Clubb score on his return, this week we should have Tautai and maybe Joel Tomkins back so near enough a full squad to attack the play offs and cup with, not to mention the return of the rubber man Dom Manfredi. He was probably my favourite player before his injury.

So come on, think positive, we can make the top four. If not just a win against Catalans and then focus on the Cup.

Rob Kenyon

It’s been a long time coming but Wigan finally picked up two league points with a solid if unspectacular win at home to Widnes. Once again we built up a decent lead only to let Widnes back in the game, ultimately sealing the win with two late Joe Burgess tries.

Wigan started confidently enough and off the back of three early penalties eventually found their way over the line on 17 minutes with O’Loughlin strolling through Widnes’ defence to take a perfectly placed kick from Leuluai. Tommy Leuluai has come in for some stick of late from the keyboard warriors and it was good to see him back towards his best with some excellent positional kicking and ferocious defence.

The hero of the day was the returning Tony Clubb, given a great reception by the crowd as he came off the bench.

How modern day players cope with the brutality of our sport in normal circumstances is beyond me, but to play with the drive and vigour of Clubb just 58 days after major surgery to remove a kidney was something special to see. He drove the ball in strongly and defended well and was rewarded with Wigan’s second try, even if he did drop the ball, not spotted by the officials. If anyone deserved a bit of luck after an injury plagued 12 months then it was Clubb.

A Tierney try put Wigan 16-0 up on 36 minutes but Wigan let Widnes in with Lloyd White collecting a Corey Thompson kick just before half time. The timing of the try seemed to knock Wigan’s confidence and with handling errors creeping into their game, they allowed Widnes to score midway through the second half, Widnes capitalising on confusion in Wigan’s defence after a kick ricocheted and bounced kindly for White again, who ran 40 metres and dummied three defenders to score.

The Widnes crowd took time out from their booing to get behind their team, and provided a moment of humour with a chant of “We’re supposed to be at home”, in reference to the switched fixture from earlier in the season. Widnes seemed the likelier to score but Wigan’s defence held firm, especially with a great try saving tackle from Burgess on Stefan Marsh.

The game was finally made safe with seven minutes to go after fantastic work from Farrell with three consecutive tackles, the last of which ended with him stealing the ball one on one and Burgess went over in the corner, and then added another two minutes from time. Not pretty but at this stage of the season the points are more important than the performance.

Jon Lyon

Two points are two points and come the end of the season these could be critical if (and it’s a big if) the Warriors can make the top-four. It wasn’t pretty and Wigan seemed to do the Wigan thing and make hard work of it when they didn’t really have to. Going from 16-0 without having to do an awful lot, to 16-12 and relying on a brilliant tackle from Burgess when it looked like Widnes (and let’s be honest a very ordinary Widnes) would look to take the ascendancy.

Now for the positives, Wigan’s defence looked much improved despite the opposition, players like Sean O’Loughlin, John Bateman and Sam Tomkins are getting fitter by the week, and players are now returning to offer competition for places.

It was great to see Tony Clubb back in Cherry and White after his operation in May and even better to see him cap his return with a try. Likewise it was good to see Lewis Tierney get a try on his return to the squad. I was surprised to see top scorer Liam Marshall not in the squad and even more so to see Tierney in ahead of Davies but Wane must be looking to keep the players fresh and fit, and perhaps give Tierney some confidence back after a spell at full back during Wigan’s poor run of form.

On to this week and the annual jolly to Perpignan. Realistically, Wigan simply must keep winning games to keep in touch of the top-four. Catalans themselves are looking to put pressure on Huddersfield who currently occupy the coveted eighth spot so it’s all to play for. Wigan have a decent record compared to other sides at the Stade Gilbert Brutus but this season has shown nothing can be taken for granted. Shaun Wane wasn’t happy with the mistakes against Widnes and again will be looking for an overall improvement to build some form as the crucial cup semi-final against Salford looms on the horizon.

Finally, thoughts and prayer to the friends and family of Adam ‘Carney’ Cooper the player from Culcheth Eagles who sadly passed away on Saturday, July 1 playing for the Eagles against Runcorn. Whilst nothing can comfort the loss of a loved one, it’s remarkable to see how the RL community pulls together at such times to look after those affected.

David Bailey