The 18th man column: ‘Loss of Sam and Lockers not huge blow’

George Williams was in fine form last week
George Williams was in fine form last week

Well I predicted a Wigan v Saints Grand Final in this column at the end of August and the way the fixtures lie still leaves that possibility open, but in reality the semi-finals this weekend could go any which way.

For Wigan I think home advantage is huge. Progression to Old Trafford has been earned at the DW in each of the past three seasons and it’s certainly better than a trip to Hull.

Anthony Gelling offloads against Catalans

Anthony Gelling offloads against Catalans

That said, Wigan have won twice at Hull whilst losing to them at the DW but we should really have the energy on the Challenge Cup holders.

Last week’s league leaders’ decider was all set up for them to take the spoils and they failed miserably in the energy department.

Of course they can come again but if Wigan are high on energy and produce the attack that was witnessed against Catalans for the opening 50 minutes last Friday then they will be hard to stop.

I’m not convinced the absences of Sam Tomkins and Sean O’Loughlin are the “huge blows” that some in the national press have suggested.

The captain would play if fit but, like I wrote a few weeks ago, I don’t see an obvious candidate screaming to be dropped. Lockers would have presumably replaced youngster Joe Bretherton this week but if Ben Flower had been fit then it would have been an interesting call.

In Sam we have seen only glimpses of his old zip and quality in attack that used to mesmerise defences. “He needs an off season,” was a common thought and that may well be the case and you do wonder how fit he’s been anyway?

So I don’t worry too much about his absence going forward, but defensively he has been outstanding. Excellent in the air and perhaps sharper on awareness of positioning as well since he returned from the NRL.

Wise coaches would surely test Dan Sarginson in replacing him and that could be a crucial factor. Marc Sneyd was excellent in kicking when we visited Hull just the other week. I still fancy Wigan heavily to reach Old Trafford but if we do make mistakes it will probably cost us.

In the other game, Warrington have beaten Saints just three times in 27 home matches since Super League began. Add in Saints being the form side and you can only see them gaining the victory.

That record should be ultimate motivation for the Wolves though. It’s embarrassing and they are far better than that.

Bilko

Wow, what a race that was to the League Leaders’ Shield. It’s nice that Warrington have managed to get something from this season as I suppose this was their year, again. As for our game, a superb first-half performance left Catalans shattered and, although we knew they would come back at us, we really didn’t need to help them so much with penalties and sleepy defence.

But the win gave us a much-wanted second-placed home semi-final and the boys from Hull are really going to give us a hard time.

Having won the Cup already, their dreams of a double are very much alive and this winner-takes-all game is one where we need to be alive to every play.

It has been an horrendous year for us injury-wise and I don’t think that many would credit us that having finished second overall.

But this is it folks, this really is the big one for us now. If we are as eager to defend as we have done all year, then I can’t imagine Hull FC having the guile to beat us. They are a big team, and I know that the players will have laid down their own challenge to get on top of them.

Be fierce, be fast and stay focussed so that we can all book our tickets to Old Trafford.

Darren Wrudd

The Warriors looked fairly slick in attack in their win against Catalans, which booked them a home semi-final against Hull FC.

It was refreshing to see the likes of Gelling, Bateman and Matty Smith trying little kicks through the defence which all produced tries. Not to mention Farrell and Charnley managing to break from deep with great effect.

Shaun Wane won’t be happy with the manner in which some of the late tries were conceded but it will probably be a relief that after the close-ought games against Hull and Warrington his charges won’t be drained of energy going into the semi-final.

The head-to-heads this season between the sides stand at two wins apiece, and interestingly neither of the teams has beaten the other on their home patch, with Wigan’s two wins arriving at the Kcom and Hull’s victories at the DW and the Keepmoat in Doncaster in the hard-fought Challenge Cup semi-final. I am sure that game will be mentioned in training this week as the Warriors won’t want Hull to deny them another final appearance this season. It’s remarkable to think that Wigan will be without Sam Tomkins, Dom Manfredi, Ben Flower, Michael McIlorum, Lee Mossop, Tony Clubb, Joel Tomkins and Sean O’Loughlin going into this game because six, maybe seven, of those players are first choice out of the starting 13, yet Wigan are still challenging.

Wane has come in for a lot of criticism this season but imagine Hull turning up without Shaul, Talanoa, Houghton, Taylor, Watts, Minichello and Ellis, I think every Wigan fan would fancy their chances.

So I think it’s important that, despite the recent criticism of form and flair, the Warriors fans turn up and try and cheer the team onto a fourth consecutive Grand Final under Wane.

The great thing is you could flip a coin and the final could easily be Wigan v Warrington, Hull v Saints, Wigan v Saints or Hull v Warrington, it’s that close.

For me, I just have a sneaky feeling it could well be Wigan v Saints as Hull and Warrington have been hit and miss since their Challenge Cup exertions.

David Bailey

Wigan went into last Friday’s game on the back of a fair amount of criticism. Minority fans calling for Waney’s head, Smith not good enough, and no attacking flair. Well let’s put the facts down, Waney is the best thing that’s ever happened to this club. The players show it in their respect to him, Smith has led from the front all season and was massively missed in the Widnes defeat. The attacking flair is there for all to see but when you never have the same team for two weeks it’s not going to happen. We tore Catalans apart and were still not at our best. The team is coming good at the right time so bring on Hull – they don’t look the same team that won the Challenge Cup.

I still believe we can go all the way. The minority critics need to realise the team have no divine right to win because we are Wigan. They have been spoilt over the years by success at this great club. Second in the league, two semi-finals, I wonder if Leeds would swap that.

Joe Charnock