SHAUN Wane says every year that ‘squad numbers don’t matter’... but George Williams will testify otherwise.
At the end of last season he had played 26 times for Wigan, many from hooker and nearly half from the bench.
But Wane had seen enough to convince him the academy-product was ready to succeed Blake Green at stand-off.
“I remember, it was an optional week in pre-season, when you don’t have to go in,” said Williams.
“He pulled me aside and said ‘How does it feel to be Wigan’s number six?’
“I just laughed, and he said, ‘No, seriously, you’re number six this year’.
“It was the best feeling ever. I couldn’t wait to ring my dad and tell him.
“It’s a massive thing, and I looked up to Trent Barrett when he was at Wigan because he was a fantastic number six.
“It’s a huge honour for me and I’m just trying to build on that and make a name for myself.
“Shaun has put a lot of faith in me and I’m just trying to repay him at the moment.
“He took a big punt on me – well we didn’t think so but everyone else did – and he believed in me, so I can’t thank him enough for that.”
Williams’ fast-maturing performances have not gone unnoticed this year, and he was a popular choice as Super League Young Player of the Year at the Man of Steel awards this week.
“When you see the likes of Sam Tomkins and Zak Hardaker have won it, and then gone on to be Man of Steel... it can only make me strive for bigger things,” he said.
“I was absolutely made up just to be nominated, never mind win the trophy.”
But it is a bigger piece of silverware he craves this week.
Wigan head into their third successive Grand Final in confident mood and in good form.
A capacity Old Trafford crowd will watch the hugely-anticipated title showdown. And while Williams played in last year’s match, he admits he may have to pinch himself as he walks out at the Theatre of Dreams.
“I have watched Wigan play in big finals as a kid and went with my grandad for years,” he said.
“I was a fanatic as a kid.
“Sean O’Loughlin and Joel Tomkins were in those teams, so to be playing with them now is strange, it really is. To now be involved in a final is surreal.
“Last year, I wasn’t supposed to be playing, but Micky (McIlorum) got injured and three or four days beforehand, I got told I was in. I came off the bench at hooker.
“This time, I can enjoy the build-up. I feel like I’ve played my part in getting us to the final, and I’m playing stand-off, too, which is my position.
“We want to play in these big games, but the job’s not done. We’ve 80 minutes left - we’ve got to beat them.”
IT’S a “natural” left-side combination which has reaped plenty of tries this year – and it will be broken up after tomorrow’s Grand Final.
George Williams admits he will be sad to say farewell to winger – and best friend – Joe Burgess when he departs for Sydney Roosters.
Their telepathic understanding – particularly with kicks into the ingoal – has been born from years playing alongside each other for years.
“I played alongside him coming through, before that at Ince Rose Bridge from when I was 15, and the town team before that,” said Williams.
“We’ve got a good combination going. We don’t even need to speak, we know where each other is going to be. We don’t train it, we just naturally know what the other is going to do, and that comes from playing alongside each other for so many years.
“I will be sad to see him leave at the end of the season but hopefully he will be back.”