The 18th Man Column: We're not going to mention the '˜I' word anymore
Our 18th man columnists look ahead to Wigan's Challenge Cup tie at Swinton, and reflect on the loss to Salford...
Salford ended their long wait for a victory at the home of the Warriors but not without sweating on the result as Wigan threatened to stage an unlikely comeback.
Before the game I wasn’t expecting too much due to the makeup of the squad but with Salford suffering with a few injuries too I thought Wigan would compete.
In all honesty I think the game went away from the Warriors due to the experience difference in the halves and hooker.
Salford boasted Lui, Dobson and former Warrior Logan Tomkins in three key positions where the Warriors started with Josh Woods on debut, Sam Powell in a position he’s not played in for a couple of seasons and Josh Ganson on his full debut (after making his first appearance as substitute last week).
So to be competing with a Salford side, full of confidence and after giving them a 28-0 lead up to the 50 minute point, to end up losing 31-16 is by no means a disgrace. Even more so when you consider further injuries picked up in the game (most notably Powell). But I am not going to mention the “I” word any more this week.
Next up for the Warriors it’s a welcome distraction as they take on Swinton away in the Challenge Cup.
Super League takes a break before Magic Weekend and I have to say it’s a good job that it’s the cup this weekend as with the players available at the moment I don’t think Wigan would beat any of the Super League teams.
The Swinton game should be a fair test for the youngsters and hopefully they will be able to progress.
It was interesting to listen to the Chairman’s comments on Wigan TV on Friday regarding the cup game saying he would prefer if Wigan got an away game (should Wigan progress, obviously) because the next round is in the middle of the pitch development work so the game would most likely have to be played at Leigh. It really is an issue amongst the fans but at least Wigan have come out and let it be known early what the situation is.
Finally, it was fantastic to see so many players at the Players BBQ at Orrell before the academy game against Wakefield on Saturday. It really is great to see the little kids running around collecting players’ autographs and having photos taken with their favourite players.
Players get a bad rap sometimes and rightly so (eg Jesse Bromwich and Kevin Proctor for their off field antics last weekend) but sometimes they don’t get the credit they deserve when they make someone’s day. It was great to see so many turn out despite half of them hobbling round on crutches or in moon boots and involving the community is something Wigan do superbly.
Wigan this week face Swinton in the Challenge Cup, away at Heywood Road and if ever there was a need to take a break from the Super League, it is now for Wigan.
With the number of injuries stacking up, you would imagine any side in Super League would fancy playing Wigan at this moment in time.
Whilst Swinton are a Championship side, they have knocked Huddersfield out of the cup already, so I am expecting a tough game for Wigan on Sunday.
Sunday is the perfect opportunity for some of the younger lads in the squad to play at a level they should feel more comfortable at, no disrespect to Swinton but they do themselves rely on Wigan’s under-19s to add depth to their squad with the likes of Josh Woods, Caine Barnes and Romain Navarrete having played for Swinton so far this season.
With Warrington and St Helens to come in the next three weeks, Wigan will be hopeful that players like Sam Tomkins and George Williams may be close to making a return for those games but players such as Josh Ganson and Joe Bretherton should take their opportunity against Swinton to ensure they are confident after a brutal two weeks, going into those games.
One player who has played for the Wigan Reserves this year, despite being a Swinton player, is Luke Waterworth and he will look to cause Wigan some problems on Sunday. A highly rated hooker during his time at Wigan, his move to Swinton looks to have come at a good time for his career and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him become a Super League player over the next few years.
The fact that Wigan have invited him to play in their Reserve team this year after being released by the club last season, suggests that Wigan may think he also has a Super League future. His battle with Josh Ganson, perhaps the player that has replaced him at Wigan, will be interesting to watch.
Waterworth scored Swinton’s winning try at Huddersfield and is a danger man for Wigan to stop.
The expected return of Sean O’Loughlin and Michael McIlorum should ensure that Wigan are victorious on Sunday and can progress to the next round of the Challenge Cup. Wigan need to take full advantage of the favourable draw which should mean a safe passage to the quarter-finals in which they may, fingers crossed, have some bodies back by the time the fixtures are played on the weekend of June 17/18.
Going into the game last week, we all knew it would be a tough encounter and I just wanted to see our lads put in a performance and do themselves justice.
Walking away from the ground I was not unhappy overall. A couple of missed opportunities which would usually have been four pointers is just the way it goes but a few misreads in defence exposed our youthful inexperience. It was a steep learning curve and no doubt a very valuable experience which will help develop some of our young players even faster than planned, but it could so easily have been a win as Salford were out on their feet for the last quarter and that is heartening.
I have been impressed by Tom Davies lately, his vociferous attitude in encouraging the squad belied his youthful status as he wound up the lads with encouragement and gestures, I think it fair to say that he has taken a couple of games to get up to speed with Super League but is looking more confident and able every time we see him. Just as well really as the way we are dropping like flies he may not get a rest until mid October.
It was really good to see one more of the Wigan old boys doing so well, even if it was against us, as Logan Tomkins showed why he has earned the number nine shirt for the reds.
Shame we did not get to see the three brothers play for Wigan for a full season, as he has developed lately into a class hooker.
It was good to see that our captain Sean O’Loughlin had a good win though, well I say good to see, but beyond the couple of dozen who signed up for the pay per view I don’t think many did actually see the game. At a time when we are putting together a truly competitive international side which could really act as a draw for the extra fans that we so desperately need as a sport, the RFL should once more have gone to Specsavers, as their short sighted antics no doubt cost the game some real kudos.
I can see it now, England finally beat the Aussies in a spectacular final, but you can only see highlights as Amazon paid an extra five quid for exclusive rights and nobody knew, the game deserves better.
I can only assume Shaun Wane is going home every night, running over a couple of black cats on his way, and then spending an hour in his shed smashing mirrors.
There seems no other explanation for our ever expanding injury list. Josh Woods’ debut against Salford in shirt 39 means we are now picking players not even named in our 37-man first team squad.
Escare is gone for the season, Gelling and Flower are now out for months and it didn’t end there with both Powell and Gregson picking up injuries against Salford, leaving us with the prospect of facing Huddersfield’s conquerors, Swinton, in the cup this weekend, with up to seven potential half-backs missing.
It should be enough to make a grown man cry, but the overriding emotion after the defeat to Salford was pride. Watching a team made up of a large number of youngsters’ battle back from 28-0 down early in the second half, against an in-form Salford side, to 28-16 with eight minutes to go was a joy to behold.
Even when losing by 28 points the young lads had by far not disgraced themselves. A couple of poor reads on the edges cost us dear, but with Joe Burgess clearly not well, being physically sick on the pitch numerous times, and young Forsyth up against a man mountain in Josh Jones, who must carry a couple of stone in weight more, they stood up very well indeed all things considered.
As you would expect the experienced heads of the side carried the team forward, Joel Tomkins all over the pitch in various roles and Willie Isa doing his best to protect a very young right edge in Woods, Forsyth and Davies. Josh Woods can be proud of his debut, decent in defence, some good kicks forward, if anything he needs to believe in himself more but may have been given safety first instructions. Huge credit must also go to Josh Ganson, forced into playing the full 80 minutes by McIlorum’s suspension on only his second first team appearance.
Looking ahead to Swinton, “cup kings” Wigan should have Sean O’Loughlin back from international duty and Mcilorum back from suspension, but will face a motivated Swinton side riding high on the back of an excellent home win against Toulouse and their fabulous cup triumph against Huddersfield. You would hope we still have enough in our locker to sneak this one, but the enforced lengthy game time the young lads are being exposed to will catch up eventually, as fans all we can do is cross our fingers and hope it’s not just yet, and cheer on the mighty Cherry and White.
It’s a very strange experience being a Wigan fan at the minute. There’s just no confidence around the stands, and it’s not really the teams fault.
They’ve being doing it tough for a good few weeks now, and it’s getting tougher by the game. It seems we’re losing more players by the week, and with no sign of a good number of them coming back.
The game with Salford was a real frustrating one. I fancied us before the game, I just thought we’d put in a solid performance and somehow get the job done. Salford have been playing well this season, and they’re a good team, but they had a few missing as well.
We lost the first half 16-0, and I didn’t think we did too much wrong. Their tries came off a few soft penalties, but other than that, we gave it a good go, and the effort was there to be seen.
Now, I know we’re not a club who should be just happy with “having a dig”, but in the current situation that we’re in, that’s all we can hope for. We’re going to be underdogs in most our upcoming away games against the likes of Warrington, Saints and Hull FC.
The fans really started to get behind the team in the second half, and you could see how much it was helping. The lads stepped it up a little, and it was good to see, but at the same time, it had me thinking, where was that in the first half.
We ultimately left ourselves too much to do.... I feel like I’ve said that a fair bit this season. I want to say that this week we’ve got a bit of a respite, with our Challenge Cup game at Swinton, but I’m taking nothing for granted. We should have the likes of McIlorum and O’Loughlin back in the squad, which is always a bonus.
I’m going there expecting us to win quite comfortably, and we really should be doing that. Swinton had a cracker of a result this past week against Toulouse, and they’ll be right up for it.
It’ll be a tough opening 20-minutes or so, then I think we’ll take full control and see the game off. We need a good, strong result to not only get back to winning ways, but to boost morale at the club.