The 18th Man: ‘Why can an ex-Giants player referee them?’

Romain Navarrete drives into the Huddersfield defence and, inset, Tom Davies points to his great-grandads name on the Wigan heritage number list
Romain Navarrete drives into the Huddersfield defence and, inset, Tom Davies points to his great-grandads name on the Wigan heritage number list

A point won or a point lost?

Taking all circumstances into account I’d have to say one point won. Could anyone have thought our injury crisis would be worse this season than last?

Missing a dozen players from the first team squad already and then losing Wells and O’Loughlin inside the first eight minutes, Wigan did incredibly well to fight back from a losing position for most of the game to hold on for a draw.

Come Friday, against Hull, we will be missing a full team of players, most of whom would have been first choice.

Shaun Wane was right in his post match comments. The atmosphere at the DW was flat, it often is, which I find baffling. Considering how vociferous our away support is, the library that is the DW for home games does nothing to lift the players, and they need that now more than ever. It shouldn’t take a nail-biting game against Saints or Warrington, or a close cup match or a World Club Challenge game to lift the fans.

We are regularly out-shouted by away fans, including Sunday afternoon. Huddersfield didn’t bring many but they sung their hearts out for the whole game, even if it was only to drown out whoever brought that damned cowbell/tin pan and spoon!

The game wasn’t pretty, it rarely is when Huddersfield come to town. Considering the reputation Wigan have for controlling the speed of the ruck it always strikes me away teams lie on to their hearts content without being penalised as much as Wigan are, but maybe I’m biased. It should be noted though that ref Chris Kendall, according to a 2015 article on rugby-league.com, used to be a Huddersfield Giants academy player.

I find it staggering he is now allowed to referee their games. I’m not in any way suggesting anything untoward went on but with several referees to choose from why would the RFL open themselves up to accusation in such a way? Can you imagine an ex-Wigan academy player being allowed to referee a Wigan v St Helens game?

Let’s get behind the team again, cheer them on against a very tough opponent in Hull tomorrow. We are very much down on personnel and likely to be underdogs, but the lads who put their bodies on the line, especially the young lads being forced to take on experienced players who can physically monster them, deserve better support. It’s easy to grumble if the ball isn’t passed wide or a kick runs dead but one thing we shouldn’t forget is Wane will always get the team giving 100 per cent for the Cherry and White, and we should do the same.

Jon Lyon

With the build-up on injuries (again) this season, one player’s return to the side seems to have perhaps gone under the radar, but his performance last week against Huddersfield showed glimpses of him being back to his international quality. Joel Tomkins turned 30 this week and I think he is starting to look back to his best.

Everything that Wigan seemed to do well last week came through Joel, a great flick pass to set up Escare’s try and good pass to set up Tom Davies in the corner.

He looks likely to be captaining the side over the next few weeks in the absence of O’Loughlin and Farrell, his return to form could prove to be timely for Wigan. He does have a tendency to give away cheap penalties at times but hopefully the added responsibility of captaincy over the next week or so may help cut those from his game. He has currently given away the most penalties in the Wigan side to date in the Super League season, with a total of five penalties conceded.

His role this year has been to replace O’Loughlin on the interchange, playing through the middle has looked to refresh his play and he looks to be a great attacking threat once again.

However, one noticeable improvement for me, is the number of tackles he is getting through by playing as a “middle”. He is currently fourth in the stats for tackles for a Wigan player, making 111 to date, not a bad return for someone who has played mainly from the interchange so far.

Whether he continues to play through the middle or he is deployed back out in the second rows will probably depend on the injuries that Wigan are stacking up. However, the signs that Joel Tomkins is back to his best are there and I am hopeful that we will see a continued improvement from him over the next couple of weeks, perhaps putting him back in contention for England duty – although, I think Mr Bennett has too many of our players in his training squad as it is!

Sean Lawless

It might be a good idea to start with the positives. Firstly, the Warriors remain unbeaten and actually now sit atop the Super League table alone, after Castleford came unstuck against Salford.

Secondly, well, I don’t think there is one to be honest. Huddersfield came to spoil and slow the game down and it worked a treat, with former Giants academy player Chris Kendall officiating and leaving the home crowd disgruntled with some of the decisions.

To be honest the writing was on the wall within the first 10 minutes when Wigan lost captain Sean O’Loughlin and youngster Jack Wells to injury, neither returning to the fray meaning Wigan had to complete 70 minutes with just 15 players. The conditions didn’t help either and neither did Wigan’s error count, O’Loughlin’s main contribution was throwing an interception to Jermaine McGillvary and although Gelling made a fantastic cover tackle, Lee Gaskell dived in on the next play to open the scoring.

Gelling scored a brilliant individual try in the second half and it was fantastic to see young Tom Davies finish well in the corner to get a debut try. Both sides went for, and failed miserably with drop goal attempts, probably one of the main reasons Matty Smith will be missed this season.

The Warriors huffed and puffed but never got any telling pressure on the Giants line and never once led the game so with all of the factors, particularly the ever increasing injury list, this was definitely a point gained rather than one lost.

The fact the Warriors are top despite now missing Sam Tomkins, Dom Manfredi, Joe Burgess, Oliver Gildart, Lewis Tierney, Ryan Sutton, Micky Mcilorum, John Bateman, Liam Farrell and Sean O’Loughlin, speaks volumes about the current squad and coaching.

The next month will really test the squad though, next up is Hull FC at the DW and they will be looking to try and climb the table, followed by a trip to Headingley where back-to-back wins have seen signs of a Rhinos revival. Following that Wigan host Castleford before rounding off the month with the traditional Good Friday derby against St Helens.

In any season with a full complement of players, four points wouldn’t be a bad set of results from those fixtures, but with the injury crisis at present it would be a terrific return. Morgan Escare continues to impress and the calls are growing week by week to tie him down to a longer deal, the player himself has admitted he is playing his best rugby and is happy here so for me it’s a no brainer.

David Bailey

In the words of the great Freddie Mercury: “Another one bites the dust.”

So, another week, and more injuries for Wigan. This time round it was Liam Farrell, Sean O’Loughlin and Jack Wells. We went into the game with 11 first team players out injured, we now have 13. It’s not a bad team either – S Tomkins, Tierney, Burgess, Gildart, Manfredi, Shorrocks, Sutton, McIlorum, Bretherton, Farrell, Bateman, Wells and O’Loughlin.

I don’t believe there is another club in Super League that would still be sat top of the league, undefeated as World Champions with so many first team players out. It’s not only a testament to the rest of the boys, but there needs to be some huge credit that goes towards our academy and all the staff down there. We’ve seen the likes of Liam Marshall, Liam Forsyth and Tom Davies come up this season and make their debuts for the first team, all making good impressions.

While we would obviously prefer a fully fit squad to choose from each week, it’s always good to know that we have such great depth in our squad.

On the game with Huddersfield, I think it’s been said enough this week how poor we were, and how flat the game was. Immediately following the game, I was in a real mood, muttering to myself in sheer disappointment. After reflecting on the game, yeah, we were poor on the day, that’s a given. However, we lost two players after just eight minutes, and were down to just two replacements. I think a point was fair on the day, as no one deserved to win the game, and the Castleford result made it an even better point, as we went top of the league.

Hull have won four of their five opening games this season, without really playing their best stuff. It should be a good game, I think we will have enough to get the job done, especially with it being at home. Albert Kelly has been a real dynamite signing so far for Hull, and Wigan will have to watch him closely, as he’s been the key to their success so far.

Ben Reid

I suppose at the end of the game against Huddersfield, I thought we had won a point and they had lost one. I was actually quite happy with that as although the team have said they do not blame losing a couple of players for the struggle, I would point at the loss of our captain as pivotal.

Stamina and the ability to last the 72 minutes with just two substitutions to my mind is certainly not in question as our coaching staff, backed by the best strength and conditioning team in the business have our squad at the peak of fitness but we slipped a little into an old habit, which we have lately managed to do without.

A game plan is obviously a massive part of winning in Super League, but when it is controlled by the captain and he leaves the field, a distinct hierarchy needs to be evident in stepping in to control the structure and pace of what we do; it simply was not there for much of the game.

We are indeed fortunate that we have such high quality players here at Wigan, for when things are so obviously not going to plan, we have options from which we can scrape a point in a game when we were always playing catch up to the Giants’ dictated pace.

It is a shame really, as the last quarter of the game we bombed a few chances which we would normally have put to bed and I suspect that this was down to nerves as our fluent free style looked a little scratchy and perhaps too ‘off the cuff’.

We will however learn from this experience and hopefully our half backs can step back in to control and direct when required to do so.

With the fabulous pairing of Leuluai and Williams, we will not go far wrong.

Friday see’s an altogether different challenge with the ferocious pack from Hull FC coming to beat us up.

Passion is not short in the Yorkshire side’s armoury and our big guns will need to fight fire with fire. Whoever wins the forwards battle will come out victors and that is a challenge that I know our forwards will relish.

Darren Wrudd

England’s Wayne Bennett is spoiled for choice in the dummy-half position for the upcoming World Cup, and Wigan’s Sam Powell should be up there for a place in the squad.

In the past, names such as James Roby and Micky McIlorum would have sprung to mind when thinking of the first choice England hooker.

However, Bennett will have a headache when it comes to picking for the squad this year.

Canberra Raiders captain Josh Hodgson currently has his foot in the door as first choice hooker, and rightly so.

But that still leaves room for one or two more in England’s World Cup campaign.

Here brings the battle of the hookers.

For Castleford, Paul McShane has been solid in both attack and defence so far this campaign, and Daryl Clark has been brilliant as an impact substitute in the past on the international scene. But Powell must also be up there with the competition.

The 24-year- old was a fill in half-back during the 2015 season for Shaun Wane, but an injury to McIlorum saw him gain a first team chance which he grabbed with both hands.

Not only is his attack on song, but his defence has been one of the highlights of his game, including second spot behind Danny Houghton on the tally board for top tackler in 2016.

He also now currently leads the way in defence for the Cherry and Whites in 2017, and has become one of the fans’ favourites in just over a year in his starting spot.

The hooker was pivotal in 2016 and was easily one of the key players to the Warriors’ success, which saw him gain the hearts of the fans. At times he was faultless in 2016, and he now should rank as one of the best in the league.

Not only will this choice leave a headache for international coach Bennet, but Warriors head coach Wane also has another big decision to make once England international McIlorum returns to the scene.

While the 29-year- old is not predicted to return until later this year, the Wigan coach will have the choice of at least benching one of the two, with both of them deservedly earning starting spots in the first team line-up.

Powell has proven to Super League that he is amongst one of the best in his position, and he deservedly should own a place in the England squad come the back end of the year and it would be a shame if Bennett was to waste his talents.

Josh McAllister

The injuries are that bad even the coach has done his knee!

At present we have 13 first team players out injured, apart from Jake Shorrocks that’s 12 out of my first choice fully fit 17, yet we’re still unbeaten. 
Unbelievable Jeff.

Ever the optimist I see the current injury crisis as a way of blooding the youngsters. Not that it would take injuries for Shaun Wane to play them, I think he’s the best coach in living memory to give youth a chance and it’s paid off tenfold. Last week we saw Tom Davies make his try scoring competitive debut, the week before Liam Marshall and now we have second rower Caine Barnes, last season’s debutants Joe Bretherton and Nick Gregson. I see Josh Ganson and Callum Field missing out this week unfortunately.

If truth be told I would have liked to see Kyle Shelford and Macauley Davies in action, I like the way both of them play, very aggressive and combative.

Very much in the mould of how Wane likes his forwards. Both are on loan at Workington along with Jack Higginson, who also is a cracking young player.

Most of the injuries are knee injuries (Tierney, Burgess, Manfredi, Shorrocks, Connor Farrell) something in the back of my mind is alarming at the moment as the club should spot these trends.

It’s something to look into anyway.

Our next opponents, Hull FC, also have a few injuries and that should even things up a bit and make for a good match up on Friday.

And if we win this game, then the squad of 2017 could go down as the best squad we’ve had in a generation, at least in the Superleague era. We already have won the World club Challenge, best start to a Super League season since 1998 and we’re still unbeaten with most of our first choice players to come back. We just need to get our squad back to full fitness, keep playing as we are and hopefully the trophies will look after themselves.

Robert Kenyon