The 18th man column: '˜Give Wane a contract extension'
Our 18th Man columnists reflect on the stirring 35-28 win at Warrington...
Well the League Leaders’ Shield was present and ready for Wire to clinch it. Unfortunately they did not have Wigan in their script - or the display. We got off to a perfect start as we showed what we have been missing all season. Dominant attack to go eight points up but then we lost the outstanding Powell. In stepped young Shorrocks in a position that is a key to any side. But how he proved what an outstanding player he is going to be. Two weeks ago after the Widnes game I said the players needed to get behind Waney and prove the knockers wrong. They went to Hull and won then they went one better at Warrington with 12 men. The passion, desire, and spirit in this side is there for all to see. Ian Lenagan should sign Waney up long-term because this Wigan side is going places. Granted we have won nothing yet but the seeds for success are there. We go into the Catalans game needing another win and on this display the only people who would back against us are the biased duo on Sky. We can improve our attack and it is obviously something in progress. We showed what we can do and that was outstanding. Fans just need to be more patient with players that are playing but not fit. Something due to being down on numbers, but as I have said before we have no divine right to win. We need to back the coach, staff and players in good and bad times. Something a minority of fans find hard to do, we are in a good position and will get better.
A 28-14 lead with 20 minutes to go against an opposition with only 12 men. It may seem illogical that kind of lead could be lost but in reality Wigan have been producing those kind of late rallies all season.
Last Friday was the NINTH time this season that Wigan have turned a losing position into a victory. We were 13-12 down at Huddersfield, 24-20 down at Hull, 16-14 down v Hull KR, 12-8 down v Cas, 18-12 v Huddersfield, 18-8 v Hull KR, 18-10 v Wakefield, 12-4 at Hull and now this 28-14 v Warrington.
All those deficits were turned around into a huge total of 18 league points and most decided by tries within the final 10 minutes. We also snatched two points at the death from Salford back in March, albeit from a drawn position, and also fell just short of completing comebacks away at Leeds, Hull (semi-final) and Castleford having whittled down scores of 18-4, 16-8 and 26-12 to within a try as well. It’s obviously brilliant that Wigan have that resilience and belief to never give up, because I feel that will be huge for us if we get to Old Trafford, but it also begs the question why Wigan play their best when the game plan has seemingly gone out of the window. It surely cannot be the plan to keep finding yourselves losing within the final quarter of matches? I thought Wigan started well at Warrington. Yes, they may have been nudging the scoreboard up with penalties but I thought that was good tactics. It frustrated the home fans and opposition no end. The only criticism I had was that we didn’t kick one for 10-4 to keep a try ahead and I don’t say that in hindsight of knowing Warrington scored up the other end soon after that.
Defensively Wigan have been magnificent this year but in the middle part of this game it went to pot and the tries conceded by Warrington were far too easy with the ruck area totally lost. In a strange way, I think that helped with the comeback in the end because Wigan eventually muscled defence back up to its high standards and Warrington never reacted to the now lack of ease they once had. All that leaves it in Wigan’s hands that they will get a home play-off and to avoid a trip to either Hull or Warrington is a huge bonus to Grand Final chances. I’m still not changing from my prediction four weeks ago of a Wigan v Saints Grand Final.
Let’s be honest, how many of us thought déjà vu when a red card was flashed at Ben Flower and we were destined to play the game with 12?
I certainly did and did not expect to see what happened next.
Behind on the scoreboard it seemed that belief flowed through the players’ ranks as they never gave up in a gutsy lesson in how to play rugby league.
Whilst Warrington looked tired and shell shocked, we were energised and excited at the prospect of such a turn around.
The red card I thought was very harsh and a penalty would suffice, although the merry whistle blower took his chance to put the boot in and do his best to help Wire lift the Shield. How good was it when they showed on screen at the end, the hub cap being placed back in its case and waltzed out of the stadium? Brilliant.
Sam Tomkins had a real captain’s knock and began to get some proper structure back in our attacking line, but to cap it all with a super Sam stolen try was ace.
I understand that young Sam Powell seemed a lot brighter after an hour or two and hope to see him again this week although even bigger than that, we have an outside chance that Sean O’Loughlin will be back just in time for the play-offs.
We said last year that he was making a habit of only coming back for the big games and it seems that once more he may do just that.
I would rather have him on the field than off it and he will add some extra biff up the middle and I expect to see some great ball handling from our leader.
I would like to finish by congratulating our under-19s team and coaching staff for reaching their final next Sunday in a real backs against the wall performance against a hotly favoured Leeds team. With many injuries to our youngsters, we needed a big performance and got just that with an outstanding performance from young Jack Wells amongst others.
The final against Saints should be a real firework show and I for one can’t wait.
I think the phrase widely used for this would be “pick the bones out of that one”.
With Warrington leading 28-14 Ben Flower chased down the kicking Declan Patton and got it all wrong. The resulting red card left Wigan needing a miracle and somehow they found one, scoring 21 unanswered points and leaving the Wolves still searching for the point they needed to secure the League Leaders’ Shield.
The game itself was full of drama and excitement, despite the high penalty count which left both coaches scratching their heads at some of the calls, but it was only when Wigan were down to 12 men that they abandoned the structure that they are renowned for and started throwing the ball about and taking risks.
And once they got a roll on, even with a man short, Warrington couldn’t find any answer, making simple unforced errors.
The Warriors kept their composure and Matty Smith calmly slotted over the one pointer to give the Warriors the lead, before Anthony Gelling sniffed out an interception to finish the game off.
The one thing that is for sure is that if Wigan do get anything out of this season it will be as a result of their defensive efforts this year which even had Tony Smith’s admiration.
There has been a lot of doom and gloom around about Wigan’s performances of late (myself included), particularly their attacking threat. But the simple fact is Wigan’s last three victories have been against the teams in the Super League semi-finals, when they have all had something to play for –Hull and Warrington to win the League Leaders’ Shield, Saints to catch Wigan and hope for a home semi-final, so things could be a lot worse.
The Warriors only need to beat Catalans at home this week to secure a home semi-final and be 80 minutes away from a fourth consecutive Grand Final and as Catalan’s season has trailed off dramatically I can’t see Wigan letting this one slip.
Finally a note about the Wigan Academy side who beat Leeds in a thrilling game on Sunday to set-up yet another Grand Final appearance.
It really is a testament to the coaching staff that the youngsters continue to perform at this level year in year out when players get promoted and move on.
Lets hope they can continue the run of Grand Final victories when they face arch rivals St Helens this weekend at Langtree Park.