The 18th Man Column: Not the first time, and it won't be the last
Sport is an infinitely frustrating, annoying, perplexing and yet ultimately brilliant pastime.
How many times are we flying high one minute only to get our backsides kicked in grand fashion the next?
Nothing is more sure that it’s not the first time and certainly won’t be the last, but that trip back to winning ways stirs the heart and soul of players and fans alike.
Castleford have shown many times this year that they are the real deal, but their fans’ obvious glee at getting one over on us once more shows how big a scalp the Warriors are considered. A compliment really and one which I hope never changes, for the day when it’s just another two points from Wigan would be a dreadful prospect.
I can’t see that happening here at Wigan but I am sure Warrington said that last year too, although the hunger for success begins at the schools and local clubs around the town and so our future production line of talent eager to don the famous colours seems safe enough for now. Injuries are a painful reminder to us fans what these athletes put themselves through for our entertainment and I can’t imagine how fine the balance between a sedate home life and such an aggressive job would work, but work it does and the gentle and loving attitude of these young men shines out when they are often seen with their children at the end of a game.
Congratulations to Sam Powell and family for their latest addition, is it too early to be thinking about developing another half back, Sam? Every cloud though has a silver lining somewhere and the news that Manfredi has begun his journey back to fitness is brilliant. He will be like a new signing when he returns and may have to fight his way past the fabulous stand-ins currently occupying the wing slots. Davies, Marshall and Forsyth are proving that we really do have quality in depth and so with such obvious potential we can expect a better performance this Friday against Salford.
The performance on Saturday against Castleford was atrocious, there is no other way of dressing it up. The injury situation is bad and the score line reflects that, however the performance was not acceptable for a Wigan side.
Even with the young players that have been put in the side and losing three players to injury during the game – the way in which some of the players seemingly gave up will have disappointed Shaun Wane and the fans the most.
Nobody likes losing, but there is a manner in which a loss is more acceptable and Saturday night looked like there was a poor attitude from the players; probably one of the first times we have seen that from a Wane team.
However, the loss and type of loss is probably more due to the current league format than anything else. Losing to a side by 50 points but still knowing that you can beat Castleford once, in the semi-final or final and be made champions is probably the underlying issue. There is no real, great reward for winning every game of the season – if anything there is less incentive to do so.
To be cynical, you could argue that being in fourth or fifth place going into the Super 8 series is a better position for a club as there would appear to be more riding on those seven games and an increased opportunity of higher attendances during those games. Rather than say, being eight points clear of fifth place in the top two positions; it’s an unfortunate by-product of the current league structure. Which means that the surrender from Wigan’s players on Saturday is probably not going to punish them as much as it would in say the NRL ladder. Likewise, Castleford’s reward is that they are only three points above Wigan, despite earning four points in their two meetings against them so far.
Wigan, as a result of the current league structure, for me, target some key points of the season and accept that results either side of those milestones may not go to plan. They target Good Friday, Magic Weekend, the Challenge Cup and the key games in the Super 8s before the play-offs. I expect Wigan to very much manage their injuries and players for the next two weeks before they target their next big goal, a third win in a row in the North East.
The less said the better. The Castleford result will hopefully be an anomaly, like losing 62-0 to Wakefield last year, something we can look back on at the end of the season and smile about, wondering how it happened as we polish some more silverware. Fingers crossed anyway. It’s hard to rationalise how we took such a beating, we still had plenty first choice players missing, as we have all season, but the team we had out, on paper at least, was far from the weakest we have put out this year. Castleford were top of the league before this round of games started, but had lost their previous two games, albeit by two points each time away at Hull and St Helens, and we were on the back of a mini revival of three wins. Surely it would be a classic close game with two teams battling it out for top spot?
Well, no, two sin binnings, a disallowed try and three injuries put paid to any chance Wigan had. Castleford looked in red hot form early on, scoring after only a minute and even if Wigan had kept 13 players on the pitch at all times they may have struggled to live with the classy Yorkshire side. But the loss of so many players, yet again, and the resulting workload on the forwards with a bench of one left Wigan looking a tired second best.
Already 26-4 down at the break and with the vitally important Williams not emerging for the second half, the game was soon out of sight after Escare was sin binned early in the second half and Wigan conceded a further three tries during his time off the field. I can’t imagine Shaun Wane will spend too long analysing this game, his time will be better spent praying we have a team to put out against Salford on Friday, the short turnaround doing us no favours at all.
With Sean O’Loughlin away with England and Williams, Leuluai, Sam Tomkins and young Shorrocks all injured, the half backs cupboard is looking pretty bare.
Sam Powell will presumably play scrum half partnered by possibly Gregson or Escare, but with McIlorum banned for standing on an opponent young Josh Ganson is facing the prospect of trying to play 80 minutes in only his second game of first team rugby for Wigan, ironically up against someone we deemed surplus to requirements in Logan Tomkins. How we could do with him in our squad on Friday.
Talk in media columns this week is of what Wigan will do when everyone is fit, that problem seems a long way away at this moment in time. Onwards and upwards...
Before I get down to the nitty gritty, I’ll try to be as clinical and concise as Castleford’s performance when summing up the game. Wigan were never at the races and the Tigers landed every pass and every move came off. Couple this with some terribly sloppy defence, some poor discipline (another two yellow cards and McIlorum banned for standing on an opponent) and 54-4 against the competitions stand out team so far doesn’t look so bad. Hopefully Wane will consign this defeat to the history books without much of a review as he did the last time the Warriors suffered a drubbing just a few miles down the road in Wakefield last season.
Now, injuries, that word has reared its ugly head yet again. Wigan will go into the game against Salford missing a huge number of players, I’d be here all day if I tried to reel them all off but with a further three injuries picked up on Saturday, Wigan really are down to the bare bones of the squad and the players really will need some support this week.
As I understand it Shaun Wane carried out a full review of the injury situation last season and was satisfied it was just misfortune. The types of injuries were analysed and there was no trend or pattern that would indicate an issue with training or recovery methods. That being said though, I heard a point earlier this year that made me stop and think. Could it be Wigan’s playing style that is contributing to the injuries? Granted there are some injuries such as Oliver Gildart’s at the hands of Brett Ferres, Tommy’s broken jaw, Tony Clubbs kidney problem, plus Sam Tomkins foot injury (which to my recollection has never been explained) which just cannot be helped.
However, listen to any Super League coach ahead of a match against Wigan and the predominant words tend to be physical, dominant, wrestle, impact, intensity, words which match Shaun Wane to a tee. But could it be this style of rugby which is lending itself to Wigan’s lengthy injury list?
Injuries are part and parcel of the game but looking around the league and very few clubs tend to have more than four or five players out at any one time, whereas at the Warriors this has been a constant (and a minimum) for the past season and half. Salford should be licking their lips at the prospect of playing a Wigan team without Tomkins, Manfredi, Gildart, Williams, Leuluai, Flower, Clubb, Bateman, O’Loughlin with doubts over Gelling, as well as losing Micky to suspension. I mean that’s 11 regular starters, without even mentioning the fringe players, and the likelihood is Wigan will have a team packed full of youth products that will need our support.
The DW is often (and correctly) criticised for having no atmosphere save for the big games, hopefully this weekend the fans will get behind the team as they search for an unlikely victory.
It was all going so well for Wigan. They’d won three on the spin, started to get a couple players back, and the result going into the game with Castleford was in our favour, with Leeds losing.
It’s was never going to be an easy game with the Tigers, but we’d been playing okay, and had a bit of confidence about us. I thought we could go there and give them a real game. How wrong I was.
It was an absolute horror show down at the Mend-A- Hose Jungle, as we were mauled by the Tigers, and completely embarrassed in my opinion. Like Shaun Wane said after the game: “Wigan teams shouldn’t get pumped like that....”
It was a real tough 80-minutes to endure as a Wigan fan. We never looked in the game, at any stage of the match. From the first minute, you could sense where it was going.
The strange thing was, as I stood there watching try after try go in, I found myself appreciating their play, more than being angry with our inability to cope with it. Castleford were as good, as we were poor. They’re a great side, who score some remarkable tries, but that’s still no excuse for the hammering that we took last Saturday night.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, we also finished the game with another handful of injuries.
Gelling, Williams and Flower all didn’t finish the game, and Sutton, Escaré and McIlorum all ended it with knocks.
It doesn’t get any easier, with Lockers in Australia playing for England in their test match, there’ll be some more rotating against Salford tomorrow night. There’s a huge chance for the likes of Tierney, Navarette, Gregson, Wells and Bretherton, who you’d assume will get some game time this week.
On the game with Salford, it’s going to be tough. We’re down on numbers, and there’s more rotating to be done. But, our young lads have stood up and been counted all season, so I’ve all the faith in them, and I really do think we can turn up and win on Friday.
It’ll be a huge result if we did, one that we desperately need, with the likes of Warrington and Saints coming up in the next couple of weeks. We’re still in a good position, and only three points off top spot... it’s not all doom and gloom.