The 18th Man column: ‘The regular season matters more than many realise’

Sam Tomkins took his Wigan tries tally to 150
Sam Tomkins took his Wigan tries tally to 150

Wigan fans have their say on the Super 8s, Wakefield victory and Friday’s trip to Castleford...

Attack! Attack! It’s been the gripe most of the season but at least here we laid a platform going forward that we can hopefully build upon.

A constant question since Friday, by those who weren’t at the game, has been “was that result more about Wigan or Wakefield?” It was a bit of both to be fair, Wakefield were way off it, but Wigan still had to cash in on that and more important for me was that they did it over the 80 minutes.

We still lacked flow going out wide, to the centre positions in particular, but overall this was a job well done by Wigan.

I won’t lie, I’ve been a bit low on our prospects after the previous three weeks but this was slight pick me up. Certainly not a result to get carried away with but the key now is backing it up with performances against both Castleford and St Helens.

I mean a lot of people seem to think that the regular season doesn’t matter much but I think it matters more than people realise.

You win the title in October at Old Trafford but I’m adamant that our 2010 success, for example, was won more when we went to Warrington and won in February and St Helens on Good Friday that year. Ending hoodoo’s at both places were huge moments and gave the team the belief when it mattered. Ending our dreadful record in non-Easter derbies could be an equally huge moment if we can manage that in a fortnight but before then we have Castleford to contend with.

Daryl Powell’s side have the second best attack of the “Super 8” sides and I always get the impression that neutrals and members of the press love to watch them for that reason. However, it’s the fact they also have the second worst defence that ensures that their matches are never dull. Castleford scored 26 points when Wigan last visited but they still lost to our struggling attack.

They’ve done that twice more since then as well.

That shouldn’t be happening for any side, especially at home.

Arguably, Wigan’s best performances have come against Daryl Powell’s men this year. Excellent in that game at Wheldon Road and we dominated the cup tie at DW.

Those matches will spark Castleford up more though and that makes this a bigger test of Wigan’s resolve.

They got a big result last week against Hull but they’ll be desperate to back that up at home.

Belief is a huge weapon to have in your arsenal and Wigan have an opportunity to grasp that back over the next two weeks. We wait and see whether they take the opportunity!

Bilko

I often wonder how a side will react to such a huge disappointment as a missed trip to Wembley, when it was so close and it became evident early on that we seemed to have used this as a catalyst to focus on the two remaining trophies available to us.

Our attacking flair, which has been absent all year, seemed to click into place with some well worked out plays, mostly simple but very well executed.

I did however notice a huge difference in the way we returned the ball.

For a long time now, this task has fallen to our outside backs and the likes of Charnley, Sarginson, Manfredi etc. would be back behind the plays early on to give our props time to gather and join in.

I have thought for a long time that although laudable that our back line puts in such a huge shift, it also takes the sparkle out of their game as they are spent when it comes to the big plays.

However, this time our forwards properly got involved.

The first three drives were almost always our front line boys and they worked so damn hard in creating space that our backs were free to do their job.

This gave acres of space to Matty Smith and Tomkins to work their magic whilst Williams was like a loose cannon and terrorised Wakefield’s defence.

The team seemed to be enjoying their success and it was a joy to see their celebrations which showed just what a tight knit group they are.

All in all a good day at the office and one on which to build as we enter the most important part of the campaign.

We have some tough challenges ahead and as Stevo on Sky Sports said, ‘the League Leaders’ Shield is still up for grabs and Warrington has a real chance of success’.

No mention of Wigan, but are you surprised?

The whole establishment is seemingly terrified of a dominant Wigan Warriors and will talk us down at every chance.

It seems then that we will have to do this in spite of them all and cherish the moment all the more for the experience.

With the results favouring us at the weekend we have it all to lose but only ourselves to blame.

I have said all year long that this group of lads can pull off something special and although the Cup is out of reach this year, we can still be Champions come October.

Darren Wrudd

After the semi-final disappointment it was on with the Super 8s.

This is a competition we have to do well in as the League Leaders’ and Grand Final are all that’s left. Wigan welcomed back Charnley and Nuuausala from suspension and bossed the game from minute one against an under-strength Wakefield.

As well as our defence being good we saw glimpses of our,attack being where it should be.

Big Frank Paul showed glimpses of what an asset he is going to be.

Williams got more free rein and showed that he is top class and getting better.

Tomkins bossed the show and proved to the doubters what an asset he is to the team.

Bateman was outstanding and with players to come back next week and the week after, we are looking good in our pursuit of silverware.

There are hard games to come and I am sure every Wigan fan has pencilled in the August 19 to be there for Saints at home.

We owe them big style and the players know that as last time we had one eye on the semi-final.

They have hit a good run of form which is good to see for under-fire coach Cunningham.

We have had more injuries than anyone yet we sit joint top of the league and semi-finalists of the Cup.

Yet still a minority are unhappy, perhaps over the years they have been spoilt.

We have a young squad that is going to rule for many years shown by last week’s display from young Jake Shorrocks.

What a player that kid is going to be and he can kick goals as well.

It will be a tough one next week at Castleford but a game we can win.

Joe Charnock

Well, in the battle of the losing semi-finalists Wigan came out on top convincingly.

Wakefield were down a few men with injuries but even so their performance was that of a team with nothing left to play for.

Their best performances came from their youngsters particularly debutant Judah Mazive on the wing who never gave in and had a great battle with Charnley.

Wigan’s attack fired with the biggest win of the season but I don’t think coach Shaun Wane will be reading too much into this result.

It was good to see the entire back line on the scoresheet with Sam Tomkins’ brace taking him to 150 Wigan tries, Manfredi stretched his legs with a length-of-the-field interception and youngster Jake Shorrocks didn’t fluff his lines converting all five of his attempts at goal.

This came after Smith missed two and Josh Charnley missed his attempt.

Goal kicking still a concern for the Warriors.

Somehow Willie Isa was named man-of-the-match and this isn’t a dig as he had a solid game in defence.

But John Bateman was streets ahead of anyone on the pitch both in attack and defence, breaking the line regularly, setting up Sarginson with a perfectly-timed pass after drawing the fullback.

It’s great to see him back in 
the fold and credit must be given to the likes of Lenagan, Wane and Radlinski for how they handled that situation.

The weekend ended up being a brilliant one for Wigan as both Hull and Warrington slipped-up meaning the a Warriors leapfrogged the Wolves and joined Hull at the top of the table and made a bit of inroads on the terrible points difference.

Next up for Wigan is a tricky trip to Castleford.

The Warriors will have to be on form for this one as anything other than a win for the Tigers would effectively end their season too. And after the disappointing defeat to Hull in the Cup I’m sure Wane will want the League Leaders’ Shield.

David Bailey