The 18th man: ‘Draw a line under the last few weeks’

Joe Burgess crossed for Wigan's first two tries
Joe Burgess crossed for Wigan's first two tries

Our 18th man columnists discuss the Wire win, the returning stars, and tomorrow’s clash at Huddersfield...

The return of our big guns took us back to winning ways.

As expected the return of those players shored up our defence.

It was great to see Bateman return to his usual barnstorming displays, that lad reminds me so much of a young Andy Farrell it’s unreal – even his body language and the way he runs.

Gelling and Gildart shored us up out wide and Sam linked up play superbly.

Farrell is his usual classy self, and every time I see Lockers I compare watching him play to visiting an elderly relative – I appreciate every single moment because you never know if that’s the last time you’ll see them.

Lockers is sublime to watch, and I think he’s given Andy Farrell a run for his money on who the best 13 is.

All in all its been a tough few weeks and I firmly believe we have hit rock bottom with injuries and poor results.

Now as we’re heading into the business end of the season, this is where we will come into our own and win at least one trophy.

Now that the Super 8s are fast approaching, it is mathematically possible for us to make the top four.

However, with us still being part of the Challenge Cup, I can’t see us doing that.

If it were up to me I’d go all-out for the Challenge Cup and take our chances in the play-offs.

Tony Clubb is rumoured to be coming back from his kidney operation, and he is a massively underrated player.

It will be good to see his no-nonsense aggressive style of play, especially in defence, and I think a good run could see him selected for England come the end of the season.

Dom Manfred isn’t far behind either and, while he is an absolute belting player, it would be unfair to drop Marshall.

Personally I would try Manfredi at full-back and move Sam to 7 in place of Tommy to give him a rest, ready for the latter part of the season.

Now we have most of the team back, I think we should draw a line under the last few weeks and start afresh.

Robert Kenyon

Wembley may beckon once again for the Warriors after a thrilling game against the Warrington Wolves was settled ultimately by a rare drop goal from the returning Sam Tomkins.

The old saying goes in cup competitions it’s the result that matters rather than the performance, and that couldn’t be more true as the Wigan side joined Salford, Leeds and Hull in the semi-finals.

Bolstered by the return of six frontline stars, there was bound to be a little rustiness.

However, the one thing missing over the past few weeks – experience and grit – seemed to be a major factor in Wigan just edging this tense quarter-final. Both teams were desperate to get a win in this game as they are both looking like outside bets for a top-four place come the end of the season (in fact Warrington have a huge job just to avoid the qualifiers). The likes of Anthony Gelling, John Bateman, Tomkins, Sam Powell, Sean O’Loughlin and Liam Farrell made a significant impact on the game.

Gelling coached young Liam Marshall throughout, Bateman with his immense workrate and a cheeky try, Tomkins giving some confidence at full back and scoring that all-important drop goal.

Wigan did almost throw it away when Joe Burgess made a schoolboy error in the dying minutes to hand Warrington some belief and a chance to snatch the game, but thankfully Stef Ratchford and Dec Patton were both off target with their radar after the Wigan winger put the restart out on the full.

Salford await in the semi-finals, and hopefully the Warriors will remain relatively injury-free as the returning players gain some much-needed fitness and sharpness.

It’s shaping up to be a crucial game for both clubs – Salford to try and remove the ‘nearly men’ tag after immense progress this season, and Wigan to get back to Wembley for the first time since 2013.

It shows what the bookmakers think of the returning Warriors players that Wigan are favourites ahead of Leeds, Hull and Salford to win the trophy, despite their indifferent season.

Focus moves back to the league and another must-win game against top 8 rivals in Huddersfield.

The Giants bumped Wigan down to eighth place with a win against St Helens last weekend and, while the Warriors have a three-point gap to ninth-placed Catalans, a win will take Wigan above the Giants and put pressure on Saints as they look to close the seven-point gap to that coveted fourth place before the Super 8’s get underway.

It will be a tough game and Wigan will have to be on their guard, but most fans will be looking for yet another improvement in performance now the squad is getting stronger.

David Bailey

On holiday for last week’s game, I simply had to find a pub to show the game.

But in deepest Devon for a fishing expedition, it was bandit country and no-one seemed to want to show the northern version.

After an evening meal in our yearly local, the new landlord (an ex-Royal butler no less) said he would be happy to put on the TV show for us.

So as the kick off loomed, I sat with my piscatorial friends from all over the country, only for the landlord to announce ‘we shut at three, help yourselves but keep a tab on what you have drunk’ as he needed a nap.

Could the omens be any better?

Surely not, and it proved so as our lads put in a shift in difficult conditions and showed some of the spirit we have come to expect from a Shaun Wane side.

I even think it may have converted a couple of my southern chums, more used to the yawnion game, to perhaps take more notice of the superior spectacle that is rugby league.

The skill levels were a little rusty at times, and passes were not exactly on target a little too often.

But our defence showed signs of the pride in defending our line that must have had the Warrington players wondering what they had to do to get over.

To withstand that pressure, and keep our cool in the face of some desperate attacking plays, was a real boost as a supporter and no doubt as a player too.

The new boys in the squad – Gelling, Bateman and Tomkins – were like mid-season signings and all did their jobs well.

Bateman got many plaudits for his stint, but I thought Sam Tomkins added so much to the squad in his running off the ball and organisation of the structures that I can worry less about a future captain when O’Loughlin finally hangs up his boots.

My man of the match though was probably Willie Isa.

Not a glory player at all, but one of the hardest-working forwards that we have.

Isa made it a tough decision for Warrington to attack his side and closed down plays with his hard-running defensive attitude.

He is such an unassuming character off the field, and yet one of the toughest competitors on it.

We now need to transfer that attitude to the league games we have left if we are to have any chance of a shot at the title.

Huddersfield will be no push overs but it must start here and now, so we can begin the climb up the table.

Darren Wrudd

Blimey, we didn’t half need that last Saturday!

It’s been a long time coming – I haven’t been that happy following a game since the World Club Challenge win back in February.

The game itself wasn’t of the highest standards, but it had all the drama you could want in such a big game.

Luckily, we finished on the right end of it all.

It was so good to see Sam Tomkins and Bateman playing again.

The full-back positon has been left rather short since Morgan Escaré got injured and, although it’ll take a couple of games for him to hit full form, you could already see the difference with Tomkins back there.

It was a much better defensive performance, although we tried our best to let another lead go.

Our downfall was once again our poor discipline and handling errors.

I lost count at the amount of times we knocked on in our own half.

Luckily for us, Wire were so low on confidence, they couldn’t capitalise. Another highlight was having that left-edge trio of Burgess, Gildart and Farrell back together – something that looked to be unstoppable after the opener against Salford.

It’s going to take a couple of games for the team to fully gel together again, and I just hope we can keep winning in the meantime.

We need to forget about the cup for now, and put all our focus on the league.

The key thing is to try and keep this group together, and hope we don’t get any more injuries.

We’ve got five huge games coming up before the Challenge Cup semi-final. Five games we simply must win. Warrington could be our turning point, our chance to rescue this Super League campaign. If we can win all five of our remaining games, it gives us a great chance in the Super 8s.

We start tomorrow night down at Huddersfield. They’re in great form of late, having won their last three against Warrington, Catalan and St Helens.

It won’t be easy, but the Giants are without the impressive Mamo, Rapira, Symonds, Lawrence and Turner.

This gives Wigan a huge boost.

Hopefully, we can go down there full of confidence, looking to stop the rot in the league.

It’s make or break time for Wigan and their dream or retaining the Super League.

Ben Reid

My heart rate has just about dropped to something approaching normal. A nerve-shredding, nail-biting finish sees Wigan advance to the cup semi finals and another date at Warrington, this time against Salford.

It may well be the greatest game of all, but I don’t know how many more times I could sit through a finale like that.

It’s hard to decide if it was a truly classic cup tie, both teams seemed determined to let the other back in with plenty of errors from both sides.

Wigan could have been out of sight before half time had Liam Marshall been able to take in a chip over the top with the try line begging , but a shocking low bounce gave him little chance. Shortly after, Warrington struck back through Ryan Atkins, and what was potentially an 18-0 lead became 12-6.

Wigan were twice undone by kicks in the first half, but to blame the defence would be harsh.

Both kicks were placed perfectly, and Atkins had the advantage of being on the front foot attacking the ball while Wigan’s defence were staring into a blinding sun on a near-perfect day.

Marshall later made up for his earlier miss with some great determination.

After receiving a probably forward pass, he advanced quickly and evaded three defenders to cross for a try he had no right to score to give us a half-time lead.

Fast forward to the end of the game as both teams traded tries, Wigan’s from the outstanding John Bateman – man of the match on his return for only his second game of the season – showed us what we have been missing.

For someone who doesn’t look the biggest player, his strength and durability are almost super human, and to play 80 minutes in his comeback game in that weather was remarkable.

At 27-26 with only two minutes left, all Wigan had to do was defend probably one set of six and see the game out. So what does Joe Burgess do with his kick off? Out on the full. What was he thinking. Come on Joe, all you had to do was kick the ball more than 10 yards and less than 55, that’s it.

Fortune definitely favoured Wigan as Ratchford missed the penalty kick and then Patton missed a last-second drop goal attempt from right in front.

I’m guessing if either had gone over there would be a Joe Burgess shaped hole in the dressing room door courtesy of Shaun Wane.

Overall victory was deserved as Wigan were definitely the better team, and will only improve as the returning players settle into the side. Bring on Salford!

Jon Lyon

The evolution of Sam Tomkins was apparent on Saturday and I think we may now see a more settled second season back for the England full-back compared to last year.

Last season, I think players and fans alike expected the 2010 - 2012 Sam Tomkins, the make a break, score long distance tries-type of play we became accustom to.

However, the last six months Sam had in the UK when he won the double with Wigan weren’t like that and nor should we expect the next X-amount of years to be like that. Sam developed his game in 2013 and developed it further during his time in New Zealand – to be the clever, creative playmaker we saw on Saturday, not just the breakaway ,sidestepping fullback many people think he is.

This is the new Tomkins, which isn’t that new, but on Saturday, we saw Wigan get the best from him, and Tomkins get the best from Wigan.

Moving into the line in attack spreads the attack wide and makes it very difficult for defences to read and track.

It is no coincidence Tomkins had a say in pretty much every try Wigan scored.

However, I think Sam’s biggest contribution on Saturday was his defensive leadership.

You only need to listen to him speak about Jamie Shaul on Sunday during the BBC coverage of Hull v Castleford to understand how intelligent he is when it comes to defence.

It’s not even that he puts in big hit after big hit, he organises his side like no other full-back Wigan have.

The ‘new’ Sam Tomkins is exactly what Wigan need at this moment in time – courageous,

intelligent and a born leader. Don’t expect many of those famous breakaway tries while he

gaining his match fitness, but you can expect much, much more. Welcome back Sam.

Sean Lawless