Talking RL: Why Wigan can expect a smoother start

Willie Isa is set to make his competitive debut for Wigan against Catalans
Willie Isa is set to make his competitive debut for Wigan against Catalans
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NOBODY can predict with any confidence who will win the Grand Final this year.

There is not one side who look that much better than the rest, any of the top sides can beat each other on the day.

Better to look at the league table, and try and pick a top-four.

I’m very confident Wigan will again be in the mix.

With the league leaders’ shield no longer under-valued, I think Shaun Wane’s men look a good shout to be the pace-setters this year.

They have had less disruption in the off-season which should lead to a smoother start... if their ploy of giving their England internationals more rest has worked.

When assessing teams’ chances, many look at the starting XIIIs, and Wigan’s stands up to scrutiny.

But it’s their depth which fills me with confidence.

On any given week, one of Dan Sarginson, Oliver Gildart and Anthony Gelling may miss out. John Bateman is an England international but is fighting for a starting spot.

And in the front-row, at least two decent props will miss out most weeks.

Once injuries bite, clubs with the stronger squads will come to the fore.

But Wigan’s prospects are inevitably shaped by the strength of their opponents. St Helens and Leeds should be just as strong and with Catalans, Warrington and Hull FC strengthening, it’s a safe bet that some good sides will miss out on the top-four play-offs.

I enjoyed last year’s Super 8s structure.

Every minute didn’t matter – there were some dead-rubber games in there – but generally, it was an improvement on what we had.

Under the old ‘eight team play-offs’ system, clubs had greater leeway to play catch-up.

Now, no-one can win the Super League title from fifth or sixth, placing a greater emphasis on banking early points.

LEAGUE Express ran a ‘dream team’ of 20 years of Super League, picking out the best players in each position.

These things are by their nature subjective, and in this instance, dependent on the number of votes.

There were several selections which caught my eye.

Andy Farrell is in the second-row – even though records suggest he only played 13 games in that position in Super League (not that I’m complaining about Paul Sculthorpe’s selection at loose forward).

Tommy Martyn was included, ahead of other stand-offs such as Henry Paul, Iestyn Harris, Danny McGuire and Trent Barrett, and Paul Wellens ahead of Kris Radlinski.

Indeed, with seven St Helens players in the 13 - count them, seven - I’m going to guess League Express received a lot of entries from the Dark Side of Billinge Hill.

Yet, when the team was published on Twitter, the first replies were moans that Chris Joynt and Paul Newlove missed out!

THE Wigan players showed a shred of originality in selecting a nickname for Dom Manfredi - ‘Pig’.

It’s certainly a step up from the usual abbreviations of ‘Benny’, ‘Lockers’, ‘Faz’, ‘Sarge’, ‘Gells’ and the rest.

But come on, fellas. You can do better than that.

It wasn’t long ago we were cheering or booing ‘Raging bull’ (Tallis), ‘Cement’ (Gillespie), ‘Blocker’ (Roach) and - my favourite - ‘The brick with eyes’ (Lazarus).

Your predecessors put you to shame!

IT’S hard not to feel a degree of sympathy for Shaun Wane, Brian McDermott, Daryl Powell and the other strong British candidates who have been overlooked for the England role.

Personally, I’d love to see what Wane can get from players of that calibre in the Test arena.

But Wayne Bennett is the greatest coach of our generation. If it had been any other Australian appointment, barring perhaps Michael Maguire, I’d have opposed it.

The opportunity to have Bennett on board was too good to pass up.

THE ludicrous mess which is the reserves league – to recap: Wigan have nine games all year, three of them this month - will, at least, have one big positive.

The RFL is using the competition to trial new changes, and two of them have merit.

First, a 40-20 will restart with a tap - rather than a scrum.

And also, when a team rushes to form a scrum to stop the clock, those same players need to remain in position.

Both are sensible tweaks which should be brought into the game as a whole from 2017.

Such a shame the ‘common sense’ theme couldn’t stretch to the reserves competition as a whole.