Shaun Wane knows he will, probably, have to deliver some bad news to Micky McIlorum this week.
And tell him he won’t be making his long-awaited comeback this week. Tell him that he’s not going to play in his own testimonial.
“The romantic side of me says ‘get him out’,” said Wane. “I’d love for him to run out, kick off and do something but at the end of the day I want him fit to play.
“It won’t mean less people will go if Mickey doesn’t play. He’ll be there.”
If it’s any comfort, it won’t be the first time Wane has had to tell McIlorum he won’t be picked.
Days before the 2014 Grand Final, scan results confirmed the combative hooker had broken his eye-socket in the semi-final.
Some players can be stand-offish with big names. My attitute is, ‘Let’s rip in and see how he goes then’
The doctor said a direct hit could result in blindness. McIlorum’s response? He not only asked to play, he offered to sign a waiver form absolving Wigan of any blame if he was injured!
“And that’s why we love him so much,” said Wane.
“He just puts his body on the line, week in, week out. I couldn’t think of anyone more deserving for a testimonial, because the service he’s given to this club is immense.
“Whether he plays or not, it’ll be a big day for him.”
McIlorum is still recovering from a nasty ankle break in the World Club Series against Brisbane last February – his last appearance in the Wigan shirt.
He is in training, but protective plates are causing him nerve problems and he needs further surgery to remove them, which will drag him lay-off into the start of the 2017 campaign.
The operation can not come soon enough for the 29-year-old, who is desperate to get back on the pitch doing what he does best – “whacking people”.
“I’ve always enjoyed that side of the game,” said McIlorum. “It’s just something I’ve always done – even as a kid, I’d always be the one trying to put a shot on.
“I can see before a game, some people can be stand-offish with big names in the other side. But my attitude is, ‘Let’s rip in and see how he goes then’.
“I can tell by people’s eyes, sometimes they will run the ball and I catch their eyes and then they will step or run at someone else which winds me up even more.
“The players I respect are the ones who get up and keep coming. Moz, JP, Kylie Leuluai... they get whacked and keep going – that’s what I respect.
“What can I say? I just like whacking people! I can’t even say where it comes from, because I’m quite a placid bloke off the field.”
If there has been one silver-lining to his enforced lay-off, it gave him time to plan events for his testimonial season to mark his decade-long service to the club.
“It was good to have something to channel my energy and time into it,” said McIlorum, who with his committee has planned other events which are outlined on his website mmc9.co.uk.
“It’s been good to look back on the last 10 years. It doesn’t seem two minutes since my debut – I can’t believe where the time has gone.
“I’ve loved every minute and I’m grateful for all the support I’ve had.”
He became the 1000th player to represent Wigan when he made his debut under Brian Noble in 2007. The ex-Great Britain coach was initially reluctant to put him in, but encouraging words from Wane and Trent Barrett helped strengthen the young hooker’s case.
By 2010, he had proved himself a real force, getting the nod to start in the Grand Final and earning the No.9 shirt when Mark Riddell departed.
He is comfortable in the public eye, but he doesn’t crave the spotlight. He is modest about his input to the team and impact at the club, but those who know him best are gushing in their praise.
“Micky deserves this testimonial more than anyone for the times he’s put his body on the line. He’s incredible,” said prop Ben Flower.
“There aren’t many in the competition who can bang like he does. I have mates who play at other teams and they’ll tell you, he rocks their teeth! I can’t wait to see him back playing.”
And Tony Clubb recalls an encounter between McIlorum and current team-mate Frank-Paul Nuuausala before the 2014 World Club Challenge in Sydney. There was a flare-up between the pair after McIlorum shouldered past him as the sides switched ends for kick-off.
“We knew Frankie was one of their main players, he was a big lad and he didn’t back down,” said Clubb. “The game hadn’t even kicked off and Micky was into him!
“He’s a confidence-boost when you play with him, because he doesn’t back down from anything. He flies in at a million miles an hour, he whacks people, and on the back of that he’s a good player.
“Everyone here holds him in such high regard. he’s such a good bloke and he does a lot for us lads.
“I hope the fans come out and support him because he deserves it. I’m sure they will.”
Kick-off at the Sports Village on Sunday is 3pm. The Wigan players will wear McIlorum’s special testimonial shirt, with hosts Leigh offering to wear their new away kit.