MICKEY McIlorum has been anointed the leading candidate for the coveted Man of Steel award.
And coach Shaun Wane reckons the tough-tackling No.9 will prove against Leeds just why he rates him as the best player in Super League this year.
McIlorum has been a regular stand-out in a Warriors side sorely lacking consistency this season.
And with heavyweights Leeds in town for a Sky-televised blockbuster, Wane reckons his aggression will help take douse their opponents’ firepower – even if others aren’t giving him the recognition he deserves.
“To me, he’s the Man of Steel,” said Wane.
“His smartness, his game management has improved. His subtleties at dummy half have improved.
“He’s not the raw hooker we had a few years ago. He’s been outstanding and I don’t think he’s being recognised enough.
“But true rugby league men know what a player he is.”
Wane recognises other Super League players have impressed in stages, but believes his No.9 has had a greater level of consistency.
“I’ve watched every Super League game this year, every team, and there’s no-one who has stood out (more) than Micky,” he said. “He’s been the most consistent.”
Asked why he hasn’t earned the plaudits of St Helens’ James Roby or reigning Man of Steel Daryl Clark, Wane continued: “The way he plays.
“He’s not flashy, he’s confrontational – he’s not easy to play against. But he has a lot of respect from a lot of tough professionals, JP, Paul Wellens, people like that.”
McIlorum was one of Wigan’s stand-out players in a 17-6 defeat at Warrington last Thursday night.
The team only trailed 6-0 when he was substituted and, when he returned at 17-0 down, Wigan ‘won’ the rest of the game 6-0.
Wane acknowledged the performance level often dips when he leaves the action.
Yet while the 27-year-old has battled through 80 minutes before, he believes Wigan can’t expect him to do so each week.
“I got asked after the Warrington game why we took him off, but he couldn’t breathe,” said Wane.
“He emptied his tank, he couldn’t breathe.”
It was unclear last night who will under-study McIlorum in tonight’s contest.
If stand-off George Williams is fit, Sam Powell will continue on the bench – but if the latter has to start in the halfback roles, fullback Ryan Hampshire will come into the frame.
Both Sean O’Loughlin, who missed out last week, and Tony Clubb are expected to be in the side.
Third-placed Wigan trail Leeds by four points, meaning even if they won tonight’s match, they would still need Leeds to lose one of their last two matches – both at home, to Salford and Catalans – if they are to finish top before the Super 8s begin.
It’s an unlikely scenario.
But Warriors only trail second-placed St Helens by a point and, if they can climb above them in the next three rounds, they will be guaranteed a home derby before the end of the season.
Brian McDermott believes this season has been more intense than past campaigns but counterpart Wane has a different view.
“I’ve found it frustrating,” he said.
“Wigan-Warrington last week, people say it was tough, it wasn’t that tough,” he said.
“It wasn’t that physical. Ad nowhere near where it can be.
“I think there’ll be a massive improvement from now on.
“We seem to respond when we need to. Last year, we were poor against Widnes but then we were the best team in the competition and got through to a Grand Final.
“Touch wood it happens this time.”