The 18th Man column: ‘It’s staggering Wigan could still be champions’

Wigan managed only one try against Widnes
Wigan managed only one try against Widnes

These fans have their say about the 8-6 loss to Widnes, Billy Boston statue and heading to Hull...

Last week I was upbeat with positivity. Asked how many of our remaining games we’d win? I said we’d “win the lot”. I also suggested the Grand Final would be between Wigan and Saints.

That is because I expected Wigan would use the two week break wisely and turn up now we are in September with real vigour, intensity and desire to look strong Grand Final candidate.

Instead, to come out with that performance last Thursday was depressing and demoralising. Our attack has been a staggering failure all season and I found it quite wounding for absolutely nothing to have changed during a two-week break. Arguably this was worse because Widnes gave Wigan 19 penalties to get up the field (10 more than we gave them) and also had 18 minutes with only 12 men, yet we could only muster a solitary six points. That’s five defeats in seven now for Wigan. In theory we could take that to eight defeats in 10, win two play-off games and be crowned “champions”. It’s absolutely staggering that can be an actual scenario.

It highlights that last Thursday’s 8-6 loss actually counts for very little in the grand scheme of things but, like I said on the radio at the time, the club have to sell season tickets on the back of these kind of games for next season, and I’ve heard enough people telling me they are thinking about not getting one. Even if those kinds of threats are not followed through, it should still be concerning that those thoughts are even on the radar.

Saturday saw me in part of a great turnout in the town centre for the Billy Boston statue unveiling. Long overdue in my eyes, but everyone who has contributed to this most deserved tribute deserves tremendous credit for making it happen.

I’m pleased the unveiling occurred while Billy was in reasonable health to witness it. It was sad to hear him talk about his onset of dementia on the news last week, but he still seemed in good spirits which will be a comfort to his family, I’m sure. I’m far too young to have seen Billy play, but I do remember being in the DW for the Wigan v Hunslet cup tie a couple of years ago when Billy’s former team-mate Ray Ashby, the Lance Todd winner from the 1965 Challenge Cup final, was walking up the stairs and Billy was coming the opposite way. The joy that hit their faces when they noticed each other was heart-warming to witness. That memory will always live with me.

Bilko

Sometimes I hate it when I am right but, just a couple of weeks after Anthony Gelling scored a superb hat-trick of tries against St Helens and declared how the team had silenced the critics, I stated to do that we needed to see performances like this week in and week out. But the consistent inconsistency speaks volumes of our season so far.

Widnes came to Wigan with a spoiling tactic in mind – to get into our faces and disrupt our plays by aggressive defence and controlling the ruck by slowing the plays to a crawl. We could all see it, and so could the referee, with no less than three team warnings handed out to them.

But with only two sin-bins in a penalty-strewn game, Phil Bentham had totally lost control of Widnes, who were simply not listening to him and sticking to their (successful) game plan.

After his fourth high tackle, I would like to have seen Houston sent for an early shower with a red card, but the weak official was out of his depth.

You can not deny that our players put a shift in – they were just playing in reactionary mode and allowed Widnes to dictate the pace of the whole evening.

I thought our forwards were tough, fierce and really stood up to the opposition, the final score showing our defence is not in question at all.

But our attacking flair seems to just vanish in the face of an enthusiastic opposition and, without a structure to what we are doing, the same old play around the back is easy to defend against, as everyone knows what’s coming next.

We missed Matty Smith, whom I hope will be back and fit next time, but without him the lack of an on-field general to organise the line-outs and plays is all too evident.

Our run of bad luck on injuries just keeps going, with pivotal players missing in key roles, and Shaun Wane has to shuffle the ranks each week to make allowances, which is so obviously the reason behind much of the disruption in what we do on the field.

I can’t see us winning any silverware this year unless a change is made in how we structure and time our attack, but with so few games left it seems like a job for pre-season changes rather than the last hurrah. On our day, we can beat any rugby league team in the world, it is just a shame our days don’t come around more often at the moment.

Darren Wrudd

After a week off while Hull and Warrington slogged it out for the Challenge Cup – and with the memory of the emphatic derby victory fading fast – the Warriors were brought back down to earth with a bump as Widnes managed their second victory of the season on Wigan turf for the first time in over 30 years.

The Vikings only have pride left to play for this season and they showed it in abundance.

Corey Thompson finished smartly for his two tries, registering all of the Vikings points, not to mention two try-saving tackles which effectively won the game.

Wigan got off the mark with a simple score from Farrell, converted by Jake Shorrocks, who was deputising for late withdrawal Matty Smith. But despite the huffing and puffing, the Warriors couldn’t get the crucial second score.

Ryan Sutton spilled the ball when it looked for all the world he was going to barge his way over and get the points for Wigan.

Widnes were twice put on team warnings and at one point were reduced to 11 men as referee Phil Bentham had simply no choice but to sin-bin two of the Vikings players after repeated offences.

The puzzling aspect for me is that Wigan’s attack this season has been terrible with the exception of a couple of games and, with that in mind, the Warriors passed up several (and I am being lenient here) opportunities to get the two points for a draw, or even more to win the game.

Shaun Wane may say that shows confidence in their ability to score a try, but it seems rather misplaced at the moment.

This weekend was an opportunity for Wigan to kick on and try and challenge for the League Leaders’ Shield, but that seems to be gone with Warrington gaining an excellent win in France against Catalans.

Top spot is now out of Wigan’s hands, but top four is almost secure now and, with away games at Hull and Warrington next up, it may be Wigan will look to conserve energy for the semi-finals.

On current form there will need to be a huge improvement if Wigan want to be in with a shout of glory at Old Trafford next month and, hand on heart, the Warriors don’t deserve to be champions right now.

David Bailey

Another night where we expected to go top of Super League. But how wrong it turned out to be as Widnes and their band of fellow ex-Wigan players spoiled the party.

They outplayed a lethargic Wigan side that just did not seem to have the stomach for the fight.

This shocked the majority of Wigan fans and rightly so, as the team just simply did not turn up. There was no way you would have thought this Wigan side was playing for honours.

I have tipped Wigan for honours this season but, on this form, I wonder how. Every time we have a weekend off we are poor the game after. Is this something we need to look at and, if so, change things. I was gutted after the game for Waney and the stick fans gave him.

He can only do so much and, when the players go on the field, he deserves a more dedicated performance than that. He stands for everything the club is about, and it hurts him to see them lose.

You can see the pain etched on his face, and the effort he puts in deserves more than that. We have big-money players that are not performing and they need too. Whether the reason is they’re playing with knocks or whatever, it needs sorting out. This season is still there to be won, and we are certainly good enough. The Widnes result could come back and haunt us, but we need to perform week-in, week-out. We are in a situation where we are probably stronger now in personnel than all season. Let’s go out there and give Waney and the fans some performances to be proud of. One thing the Widnes game did prove to the Matty Smith knockers that we certainly miss him and his organisation.

Joe Charnock