The 18th Man Column: '˜Warriors can't afford many more slip-ups'
It's been a tough few days to be a Wigan fan.
The league table might not be looking too pretty at the moment but it’s not quite the doom and gloom scenario the keyboard warriors might have you believe.
I was staggered to see the #WaneOut brigade are back in force on social media, I thought our motto was Ancient and Loyal!
Losing to St Helens is always painful, especially so late in the game, but let’s be honest, we’ve done that to them plenty of times over the years – Andy Goodway in the Challenge Cup semi final, Va’aiga Tuigamala on Boxing Day and who can forget Liam Farrell a few years ago?
If you can give it out you have to take it.
Overall I thought it was the best game of the season, as a spectacle.
The defence from both sides was ferocious, Tommy Leuluai bravely smashing anything that moved on his return to the team after only four weeks out with a broken jaw.
When you look at the teams which both clubs put out, immense credit goes to Shaun Wane and our boys, who were the better team over 80 minutes, and very unlucky to lose as they did.
I have no problem with the winning try. Former referees’ supremo Stuart Cummings, among others, implied there could have been interference on Lewis Tierney, but if there was contact it was minimal, it appeared to me to be two players competing for the ball.
You can be sure if it was at the other end I, and most Wigan fans, would have been screaming for the try.
Credit where it’s due, Mark Percival took his chance superbly, had an exceptional game and looks like he deserves a chance for England at the end of the year, hopefully alongside Oli Gildart in the centres. I have to say as well, unusually for me, that Phil Bentham had an excellent game in the middle, kept the penalties to a minimum and the game flowing.
Monday’s defeat to Wakefield was a harder loss to take. Having led 20-0 after 20 minutes you would expect Wigan to win comfortably.
A combination of tiredness among the players, the inexperience of our youngsters, some very tough calls by the referee, certainly in the first half, and Wakefield keeping momentum going once on a roll have made the chances of us finishing in the top four in the regular season look pretty slim.
This Saturday’s game away at fourth-placed Hull is now vital. Hopefully the likely return of Joel Tomkins, Joe Burgess and Liam Forsyth should help us defeat a Hull team in their own poor run of form. Let’s get behind our boys, remember... Ancient and Loyal!
The Wakefield game wasn’t great, blowing a 20-point lead is unacceptable. However, some of the reaction is very reminiscent of the post-Widnes Super 8s clash last year.
The defeat last season was probably the lowest point of the season for many fans. At that point, all hope was lost and the season looked to fizzling out unless Wigan could somehow win their next game, which was against… Hull FC.
There are many comparisons to be drawn with that period of the season last and the stage that Wigan are currently going through. As it stands, the form guide from the last five games puts Wigan at the bottom of the Super League table with one point for 10 available.
Lots of fans seem to be writing a top-four finish off, let’s have a dose of reality – we are four points off fourth, with 28 more points to play for before the semi-finals.
If there is one lesson to be learnt from last year it is to not lose the faith - write Wigan off at your peril. It’s easy to get disenchanted at the moment and there is only so many times injuries can be used as an excuse until it simply becomes a predefined excuse.
We are at that stage now and with 11 first teamers back in the side against Wakefield, that I am now declaring the injury crisis over (it isn’t but we need to stop considering the injuries), we have a squad of 40 players with James Worthington taking the number 41 jersey on Monday.
They are all very talented and well-coached, they need us, as fans to support them.
It’s not easy when you see so many missed tackles and mistakes as there were on Monday however that’s part and parcel of being a sports fan.
Stick with your team during the rough parts and you will be rewarded in the long run – Shaun Wane proved that last season, starting with Tautai’s winning try at Hull FC and I believe that it will start again this season the KC Stadium on Saturday. Keep The Faith and let’s be realistic and see where we are in September, not at the end of May, beginning of June.
Well it turned out to be a weekend of two halves didn’t it?
Although it is always a stretch on the emotions to lose to any St Helens side, the manner in which we went down was heartening in the amount of fight and desire that was on show.
Matty Smith was the difference between the sides as he controlled the ball well and although it grates a little, he was always going to have a big game against us and I actually wish him well as he did a great job for us whilst at Wigan which won’t be forgotten.
Then Wakefield rolled into town and I sat waiting for kick-off as we discussed how they were not going to be a pushover this time and it would be tough.
Twenty minutes later, 20-points to nil up, and the party had already started as the Wigan crowd felt most upbeat.
Then, oh my goodness – 36 unanswered points against us with a most uncharacteristic display of weak defence mixed with the usual cheap and silly penalties conceded.
We cannot blame youth or inexperience for the most of this, our technique was all but forgotten and the Yorkshire players could not believe their luck as they bounced off tackles like an under-14s game.
Reece Lynn, not a huge centre, was hit by three of our lads, took a step backwards and carried on running around them as we got all ‘armsie’ with flailing limbs trying to grab instead of hit and wrap.
I am glad, though, that Shaun Wane has such an open attitude when things go wrong and states exactly what has happened, it means that we have a chance of sorting things out and hopefully doing the little things right again in time to stop us falling into the middle eights.
The highlight of the game was yet another debut for one of our own. Young James Worthington showed a lot of promise in attack and took two tries really well.
His misreads in defence can be excused and the sight of Sean O’Loughlin coming over to reassure him showed how close knit the guys are, a great experience for the lad and I am sure we will see much more of him in due course.
It is another short turn around for all the clubs this week and I can imagine some weary bodies coming into rehab and training this week.
Watching our next opponents Hull play Catalans last Monday showed just how low the energy levels are with many teams and unless something is done to reduce the number of games our lads play, it will I fear lead to a real drop in quality across the league.
The coaching staff may see it as a challenge to rise to, but in reality there is only so much fuel in the tank and once its spent, we run the risk of even more injuries as fatigue sets in.
We have a habit of bouncing back and I am sure that on review, our players will be their own biggest critics, so what better motivation than a trip to Hull in search of form and two more points.
“Not good enough” was the phrase used by Shaun Wane in the aftermath of the Warriors capitulation to Wakefield and it’s pretty difficult to disagree with him.
The injury situation is still a nightmare and with the Warriors blooding their seventh academy product of the season in young James Worthington, there has to be a degree of patience and common sense among the ever growing rumble of discontent.
But – and this is a pretty big ‘but’ – Wigan have key players back in the pivots. Add to that it’s not really the youngsters that are disappointing in these games (Worthington got a double on his debut and played pretty well), it’s basics that are costing the Warriors, one-on-one tackles, poor last play decisions and that old favourite phrase, game management.
Wigan have held the lead in their last three games, but turned up with just one point.
They have started off well in all of them, but once the interchange arrives and mainly Sean O’Loughlin takes a breather, the Warriors just collapse.
The team look nervous and lacking in ideas and confidence and just get outfought and out thought.
Whilst there’s no need to hit the panic button just yet, Wigan are getting to the stage where they cannot afford many more slip ups if they are remain in the top 8.
Players will be returning soon, but again you’d like to think that Gelling, Gildart, Bateman and Sam Tomkins could be drip-fed into the team without too much pressure on them but as it stands the fans will be desperate for an immediate impact. Wigan performed better against St Helens but again came up just short in Justin Holbrook’s first derby game.
The game was in the balance until Mark Percival snatched the win for the hosts. With Saints having the Monday off, they now only lie one-point beneath Wigan with a game in hand and after all the talk of their crisis just a few weeks ago, it shows how quickly things can change.
So, where do Wigan go from here? Well, with a visit to Hull this weekend with the hosts sat one place and three points above Wigan, anything other than a win would mean Wigan would have suffered three straight defeats and would leave them a long way off the top four.
With only seven games left of the regular season though Wigan would be looking anxiously over their shoulders at St Helens, Catalans and Warrington rather than chasing down a semi-final spot.
The cup will offer a welcome distraction but a season that started with so much promise is showing a real danger of fizzling out.
There’s talk this week of the players wanting to form a players union after a lot of them weren’t happy playing two games over one weekend at Easter and May.
I agree, with all our injuries I think the game was lost against Wakefield due to tiredness. We switched off in defence and I put that down to fatigue. Despite us having a decent sized squad injuries have decimated us right down to the bone and it’s showing.
Back to my point, a players union would give the players a voice but will the RFL listen? They don’t listen to the fans so I don’t see them listening to the players. Their latest bright idea they floated was to take the Challenge Cup Final away from Wembley to increase attendance. That’s the RFL down to a tee, to keep meddling until you have something good then change it and meddle a bit more beyond recognition. If the players are to form a players union they will all have to get behind it and be prepared to go out on strike if needs be.
A few years ago Jon Wilkin led the League 13 group which was supposed to be this new players union hasn’t captured the imagination as it set out to. If the players are serious they’ll need a full time union representative and not just an ex player with a brash attitude. They’ll need someone with experience in this field and would be a good idea to poach someone from the RPA, Rugby Union’s Rugby Players Association as they’ll have the experience of dealing with rugby matters and getting the best for rugby players. I hope it comes off, life as a rugby league player is tough, the money is dwarfed by other sports and it’s a very short career so whatever the players can fight for I wouldn’t begrudge them. It would be a good idea to have a fans union so we could tell the RFL what we think of their decisions and go out on strike ourselves, or is that just wishful thinking?