The 18th Man Column: Dip in form is worrying
Another frustrating night for Wigan last Friday and what's worrying me is that our form is completely dropping off at the time when the squad is getting back towards being pretty injury free.
We all know we’ve had attacking problems this season but this loss I thought was more on the defence. The tries conceded were not great but you have to bow to the quality of Denny Solomona who now has more than 30 tries this season including seven against Wigan!
One thing you don’t often see from Wigan is them being beaten mentally but I thought Castleford had Wigan rattled at times. Sam Tomkins was captain on the night but he seemed to be more in a constant battle with the referee rather than with the opposition.
The fact the referee on the night Joe Cobb has been dropped to do Workington v Whitehaven this weekend perhaps suggests his dealing with the situation was poor but Sam pushing away Luke Dorn when he was talking to Cobb at one point was not great, regardless of what was being said and to me it was a white flag showing how rattled Wigan seemed.
Castleford are no mug side though, so this one defeat in isolation is nothing to worry about, but four defeats in five now is a worrying trend and you have to question why our best rugby in recent times seems to be being played when the scoreboard has run away and we’ve seemingly nothing to lose?
I can offer five examples. At Hull KR, at home to Wakefield (last month), at Leeds, in the cup semi-final and now this game at Castleford, we’ve looked extremely dominant late on after we’ve got to a point when we’re questioning on radio whether winning is beyond reach. Never giving up is a great trait but does it also highlights a consistent failure if we keep ending up in situations of having to chase games down late on?
Either way the pressure is now huge on the derby on Friday for Wigan to get a result. You feel that this season in severe danger of drifting away unless we can begin to turn it round with a big performance.
Our dire non-Easter derby record (no league wins at the DW or in St Helens since 2007) and the result last month hardly inspires expectation but the more that record goes on the more you feel we are due to turn that around. I hope to be pleasantly surprised come 10pm on Friday.
For the fourth time in five matches the Warriors tasted defeat and once again only had themselves to blame.
Trips to Castleford are never easy despite Wigan’s impressive recent record against the Tigers and despite a valiant fightback in the second half the Tigers eased away as Wigan struggled to keep their composure in the last 10 minutes.
The game started ominously for Wigan with Dom Manfredi forced to leave the field following a big hit from Rangi Chase, as if being knocked out wasn’t bad enough, it appears Manfredi has an ACL injury which would rule him out for the season. Shortly after Cas broke from a scrum in their own 20 and Super League’s leading try scorer Denny Solomona left Gelling standing as he raced 80 metres to score. Solomona later completed a hat trick and all on the wing where Manfredi would have been. A penalty and a converted McShane try gave Castleford a 12-0 lead but Wigan responded with a scrappy effort from Sam Powell to leave the Warriors 12-6 down at half time.
In the second half the teams exchanged scores until the Tigers extended their lead to 26-12 with an hour gone. The game was drifting away from the Warriors until John Bateman stepped in with a try and a superb break yet again to send Mossop in.
With over 10 minutes left the score was 26-22 and the Warriors had all the momentum but sadly kept imploding when it came down to the last play of their sets.
On loan Wigan player Ryan Hampshire effectively sealed the game with a controversial try three minutes from the end, where there were question marks over the grounding, before Oliver Holmes scored on the hooter to give the scoreline a more convincing look finishing up 36-22.
The Warriors will need to regroup quickly with St Helens back at the DW on Friday looking to leapfrog Wigan in third place and despite Manfredi’s departure the Wigan squad is as close to full strength as at any time in the season, so the pressure really will be on to get a result. I am still convinced the Warriors will be in the top four, but on current form would be underdogs against Hull, Warrington and Saints going into the playoff semi-finals.
Oh well, we like doing it the hard way don’t we? We get Farrell and Gelling back and lose Manfredi in the process. I feel for Dom, he has been a cornerstone of any success that we have had this year and just as it gets to the business end, he cops for a bad knock like that. Get well soon Dom and come back just as strong.
I am however, beginning to think that this may just not be our year. As hard as we try, we cannot keep the same 17 players fit to gain some regularity on the field week-on-week. When other teams are crying about having two or three of their big players out, we have had to swap and change throughout the year due to some horrendous luck with injuries and I know that Shaun Wane won’t dwell on it, but it does affect the outcome when you can’t get settled. That said, we have had some great performances from our young lads coming through and I am so very impressed with Ryan Sutton. He has done far more hours than he was planned to this season and has soaked up the pressure like a true Warrior. Our future is indeed in good hands with lads like Sutton, Shorrocks, Bretherton and Gildart coming through, not to mention the others snapping at their heels for a chance. But my thoughts now are of this season and the chances that we have left to do something great. We are in a super position at the moment and recent results aside, many would swap places in a heartbeat. We need to concentrate though, that is the key to moving forward in this competition and reaching another final. Our structure in defence has been awesome this year and but for a couple of lapses in concentration, we would have been celebrating our visit to Castleford last week. Keeping switched on when fatigued is difficult, but that is what we must achieve if Saints are going to give up the two points to us this week. It’s a huge game for us and perhaps even more so for them, we really need to make another statement and plant our flag in the top two places in the league. It’s not all lost yet, but we have to be better and we know it.
Finally, much has been speculated in the media about Matty Smith leaving us for a longer contract at Saints next year. I sincerely hope that it is not true, but if it works out that way I think we should make the most of his presence and give him a huge send off as we would certainly miss him if he left us. Matty will always be one of my favourite half backs at Wigan as his work ethic on the field is immense. A no nonsense character he could make all the difference in the run up to Old Trafford if he just gets room to play behind a dominant pack.
Not the result we wanted at Castleford and another bad injury as well. It was bad luck for Manfredi but I am sure the lad will come back stronger. Some stupid football cost us the game and I’m not one for saying it, but some bad ref decisions. Everyone swore that Hampshire dropped the ball on his try. But let’s face it, we coughed up too much possession and made too many errors with ball in hand. So the Saints game this Friday takes on even more significance now. With the way they are playing, with seven wins out of seven, they must fancy their chances. We have Charnley and Williams struggling but we can beat anybody on our day. Saints seem to be the form side of late whilst we cough and splutter. Yet with a fair crack of the whip I believe we can win the match. Let’s hope McCarthy-Scarsbrook is not in one of his winding-up moods. If he is I can see someone marching off. Saints should lose the influential Walsh thanks to the disciplinary board. I am going for a Wigan win by 10 to get us back on track. The Matty Smith saga still rolls on – will he or won’t he? Personally I think he will as he looks to secure his future. A four year deal at his age is a good deal if he does go I wish him the best of luck. He has never got the accolades he deserves for his loyalty from many Warriors fans.