The 18th Man Column: '˜If we go behind, we'll struggle to get the win'
Sean O'Loughlin and Joe Burgess produced a magic trick Harry Houdini would have been proud of as Wigan and Warrington brought the curtain down on day one of Magic Weekend, with an intense and close finish where the Warriors snatched a draw from the jaws of defeat.
On the balance of play a draw seemed a fair result even though the Wolves were toothless for the first 50 minutes or so.
Wigan just kept making the wrong decisions and just couldn’t put the game to bed. But having gone behind for the first time in the game with just five minutes remaining, it was definitely a point gained rather than lost, and hopefully Wigan will start to find some form as the key players return from injury over the coming weeks.
With O’Loughlin and George Williams back, Tommy Leuluai and Sam Powell a chance to face Saints this week, and the likes of John Bateman, Oliver Gildart and Sam Tomkins stepping up their fitness regimes, Wigan could have a healthy and fresh squad to hit the final push for the play-offs and as the race to Wembley intensifies.
The fact most Wigan fans and Shaun Wane were disappointed to draw this game despite the absence of so many key players really does show you where Wigan are at right now.
Add in to that 14 of the 17 on duty were Wigan academy products and things aren’t so bad.
Yes the Warriors are sixth in the table and while the League Leaders’ Shield looks to be gone, they are only two points off that coveted fourth place that will get a semi-final place come the end of the Super 8’s.
It was a fantastic effort from the social media team to get boxing legend Evander Holyfield to announce contract extensions for Liam Farrell, Taulima Tautai, and Joel Tomkins last week and certainly got people talking about the club.
Evander must wonder what’s hit him with half of Wigan tweeting him!
Tying Faz down to a five-year deal and Tautai to three years is good business in my opinion, but Joel Tomkins has yet to rediscover his best from since returning from union, and his extension will leave a few fans scratching their heads.
Next up is the derby against a Saints side brimming with confidence after a hugely-impressive 45-0 drubbing of Hull.
Saints new coach Justin Holbrook was in attendance and took the reins for the first time and, although he admitted he can’t take much credit for the performance, he must have been wondering what the crisis talk was about.
Frank-Paul Nuuausala has been cleared to play in the Saints game after foolishly throwing a Warrington player’s boot into the crowd after he lost it in the tackle.
He really is frustrating to watch as he should be unstoppable with ball in hand.
I don’t think he realises how big he is, and should be skittling players away like Tautai does.
Hopefully the Warriors can put in a performance this week for the full 80 minutes because if, Saints play anything like they did at the weekend, it could be a long evening at the Totally Wicked Stadium.
A strange affair took place in Newcastle – a sloppy game which we deserved to win, then lose, then maybe win again, but ended up with a draw.
It all felt a bit underwhelming in the end.
As we are now accustomed to, Wigan did it the hard way.
We lost our kicker through injury, yet another half back, rode our luck to take a decent lead at 18-6 just after half time, and then some sloppy defence allowed Warrington to edge ahead, before Joe Burgess soared highest to level the game up in the last minute.
If you’re going to draw a game I suppose that’s the best way to do it, but it still felt like we should have come away with more.
Onwards and upwards, though, and a short turnaround sees us travel to St Helens tonight.
These games are the highlight of the season for me.
It doesn’t matter how well either team is playing or who is injured...looking forward to beating St Helens is what has got me through the working week.
I’m reading nothing into their demolition of Hull at St James’ Park.
And I’m quite happy for Saints fans to get carried away with the arrival of their new saviour Justin Holbrook.
I’m certain he’ll get them playing that open brand of rugby we’re used to seeing from them, but it was as much if not more a case of how bad Hull were than how good St Helens were.
With as many local lads as we have in our side, Wigan will make a much stiffer opponent and I’m confident of the win.
Now don’t get me wrong, I would have loved to get the win in Newcastle as we really do need the points at the moment.
But if you look at the performance of both teams, then a draw was possibly the fair result.
Too much dropped ball and far too many penalties given at vulnerable times of the game left us chasing a point after dominating for much of the game.
It did not help, of course, that we lost young Josh Woods so early in the game, leaving us with little room for manoeuvre in the half-backs, and it left George Williams with far more on his plate than he could handle alone.
So much pressure on his shoulders will be a valuable experience for Williams and, as ever, he will strive to improve.
But in those situations we need a general to guide the team, not just a skilful half to create the ‘moments’ in attack.
To that end I am really pleased that, after a premature announcement last week, we will finally have Thomas Leuluai back in the squad.
That organisational brain has been a massive part of what we have done so far in 2017 and, with so many still out injured, he is a wonderful asset.
So too Sam Powell, the young hooker who has given so much already to this club.
I am glad his injury has not been as bad as feared, and it will be a huge boost to have them both back.
With St Helens having such a bounce-back in performance last week, they will be looking to continue the run for their new boss, and we will need to be completing our sets very well to offer any serious resistance to the Red V.
Finally, a thought to the family and friends of everyone who have been affected by the horrific events in Manchester.
Going out to enjoy an evening should not end in such tragedy and, with the current political climate around the world, it falls on us all to be vigilant for the safety of everyone.
One thing that has been apparent from this as ever, is the wonderful spirit of the British public and their determination to stand together whatever our differences to make this country a better, safer place.
So please be safe, be vigilant and take care of one another.
Another Magic Weekend over and, despite the obvious injury issues, we remain unbelievably only two points off the top four.
A win tonight will take Wigan into fourth place ahead of Leeds entertaining Warrington. This weekend sees what is beginning called as the “Second Easter” – another unwelcomed double-header by most clubs.
It is a repeat of Easter for Wigan, with St Helens and Wakefield being the opponents, and a repeat of Easter’s results would be very much welcomed.
St Helens have this week been linked with Ben Barba, a player who new coach Justin Holbrook has openly admitted he would like to take to Saints. Barba is an incredible talent and, although he may end up at St Helens, it would be a fantastic coup for Super League.
However, what are the ramifications of his proposed move? Although this is currently up for debate, it is understood his 12-week ban from NRL would stand in Super League.
You would imagine Barba would be Saints’ first marquee signing, so let’s say a wage of £500,000 pa (£41,666 pcm); St Helens would be paying £125,000 to Barba for the 12 weeks he can’t play.
Let’s say, Barba signs after the game on Thursday, meaning he would miss the remaining eight Super League rounds and half of the Super 8’s games, by which time they would have had to gain six points on fourth place to qualify for the semi-finals.
All in all, St Helens could end up paying Ben Barba, approximately £333,300 for four games in 8 months before the season starts again in February – why wouldn’t he sign!
This is obviously all hypothetical, and Barba’s ban could be restricted to NRL games only, meaning he can play for Saints straight away.
Should Barba sign, what does that mean for Jonny Lomax, England’s fullback in last year’s Four Nations?
So if Barba signing means £333,000 for four games in eight months and a Wiganer returning to Wigan – bring it on!
What a crazy game that was at the Magic Weekend.
Funny enough, we got a result in the one game I didn’t think we played that well in, compared to previous defeats against the likes of Hull and Salford.
The game was a weird one, as neither side could really get going, and the game wasn’t of the highest quality. As was the whole Magic Weekend in my opinion.
The one thing we did show in the game with Wire was our never-ending desire to play the full 80 minutes.
We always go the distance, no matter the score.
I did feel for George Williams at the end with that missed conversion, and we desperately miss a regular, good kicker.
We haven’t had one since Pat Richards left.
One thing to note from that game was the childish behaviour of Frank-Paul Nuuausala. I’m very surprised to see he didn’t get at least cautioned by the RFL this week for throwing a Warrington player’s boot into the crowd.
I was just above the section he threw it in to, and it went in with some speed. He’s lucky he didn’t catch a fan in the face.
Tonight’s game with St Helens is another huge one, as it always is with them.
I’m not sure how I feel about the game, and I’m going there with a bit of doubt in my mind.
Saints were tremendous last week against Hull, and to keep them to nil took a big effort.
This is their new coach’s first home game in charge, and everything is pointing towards a Saints win.
We do have Tommy Leuluai and Sam Powell back though, and great boost to the squad.
We finally get out starting half-back combination back, which can only be a good thing.
I think we will desperately need a good start, like the one we had against Wire.
If we go behind, I think we’ll struggle to get back into the game, as Saints have all the momentum going into it.
One thing is for sure, the stadium will be packed out, and the atmosphere with be electric.
This is the perfect game, and time in the season, to turn our fortunes around.