The 18th man: '˜We lost, and I feel better for it'
Five Warriors fans discuss the first defeat of the year and tomorrow's trip to Leeds...
Not often do I walk away from a game that we lost with a real sense of achievement. It has been very well documented that our youth system is the envy of most of rugby league and it is sometimes easy to see why. Hull were always going to turn up with a game plan to bash through the ranks with their oversized pack and they managed to dominate a first half which was littered with defensive misreads and players out of position. I thought that Anthony Gelling was developing a new tackle style at one point, all arms and hands almost playing patty cake with his opposite number, but without a square stance to the oncoming players he was always going to struggle.
The second half saw us play to our strengths and not react to the Yorkshire bulldozer. We ran them silly and turned on some great skill and observation. Once you begin to look at what is coming at you, then you can begin to make the right choices with ball in hand. There was no doubt that the Hull lads were spent towards the end of the game and we almost made them pay for their extra bulk. With perhaps a more observant set of officials we would have won the game and it’s a shame that teams still suffer due to human errors which could be avoided if some investment allowed video referees at every game.
I don’t like picking at the officials as they do a terribly difficult job, but sometimes they do it terribly.
I would however like to know when our luck is going to change regarding injuries to our main players. For the majority of last year we played with a heavily depleted squad and came away with the title, yet with 10 players missing already it seems that we are destined to struggle along once more. With reportedly Sam Tomkins still sat in the dugout and several long term absentees alongside him, it would be nice to see some light at the end of the tunnel with an honest appraisal of how long we still have to wait to see some players return. This weekend we must put it all behind us and remember that we will need to win in spite of the referees and their home team. Leeds are gaining in confidence as time goes on and need putting back in their place and let’s be honest, we have the lads to do it.
We fell to our first defeat of the season last week, and I can honestly say I feel better for it.
It sounds a stupid thing to say I know, but when leaving the DW last Friday, I left in a good mood, feeling rather pleased. For those who were at the game, and experienced the whole rollercoaster, will understand more than others. All week, people have been telling me not to use the injuries as an excuse, and I agree, but you still should acknowledge it.
Fans of other clubs in Super League don’t like it when we talk about our injuries, because apparently, it’s just an excuse and it shouldn’t affect us.
Okay then, look at Warrington. They have a handful of injuries, and currently sit bottom, with zero wins from six games.
They don’t have 13 first team players out, yet they’re seriously struggling. I’ve ignored other fans for a while now. For our last three games, we’ve had serious injury problems, and it finally caught up to us last Friday, against a very good Hull FC side.
On the game itself, it was a game of two halves. Hull overpowered us in a great 10-minute spell to lead 18-0, and it killed us, and the fans. When Jamie Shaul went over early in the second half, I felt that was it. You’d think after all these years I’d stop underestimating Wigan, but I fall for it every time.
The desire, determination and grit the lads shown in that final 25 minutes, was enough to send the fans home happy. I don’t think many went to the game expecting a win, but they wanted a good performance after the previous game against Huddersfield. They certainly got that, as the experienced lads stepped up, and the young lads impressed yet again.
I’m looking forward to going to Leeds tomorrow. We’ve not had the best of times at Headingley in recent years, and with Leeds coming into it with three wins on the spin, many are expecting the same outcome. However, Wigan are expected to have two or three back this week, that will strengthen the side. That added with the finish to last week’s game, it can only send them down to Leeds with a coach full of confidence.
Mario Puzo said: “What is past is past. Never go back.”
Is there a Wigan fan out there who isn’t delighted Tommy Leuluai didn’t listen to that piece of advice? Although early in his second Wigan Warriors career, Leuluai has shown all the attributes and more about why we loved him in the first place, and why sometimes a second chance is a good thing.
Having started his career at the New Zealand Warriors, but behind Stacey Jones and Lance Hohaia in the pecking order, Tommy moved to the UK where he spent two injury-hit years at London Broncos before joining Wigan in 2007. He quickly became a fans’ favourite with his aggressive style of play, quick feet and the timing of his monster hits on players twice his size, the most memorable of these on Maurie Fa’asavalu. If you haven’t seen it then check it out on YouTube, I think Maurie is still checking he has all his ribs to this day. Having won the Grand Final in 2010, and the Challenge Cup in 2011, Tommy sadly returned to New Zealand in 2013 where he has again had his injury problems but has also matured greatly as a player. As seems customary the NZ Warriors have repeatedly underperformed despite often having the bulk of the New Zealand national team on their roster. This season after being linked to St Helens, Tommy instead re-signed with Wigan with the intention of seeing out his playing career and then moving into coaching at the club. An ever present in the side this season, which must be a relief to Shaun Wane with the other injuries we have suffered, Leuluai has developed a promising half back partnership with George Williams. Leuluai’s improved reading of the game and direction of the team has allowed George to do what he does best and focus on his running and attacking kicking game.
Leuluai has also drastically improved his own tactical kicking, whilst never likely to send the ball 50-60 metres downfield, he is finding the ground much more than during his last stint at the club.
As ever his defence is first class, frighteningly aggressive, a handy man to have in the vicinity of Anthony Gelling, should he have one of his “moments” and throw an interception or shoot out of the line.
If Tommy can keep fit there’s no reason at all why he can’t add to the World Club Championship he has already won this season. Tommy’s passion for the club shines through in both actions and words and we should all be delighted he’s going to be here for the next few years, passing on his experience as a player and then coach to our next generation of talented young half backs and hookers.
A valiant effort, particularly for the final 20 minutes last week saw Wigan nearly snatch, what would have been, an incredible victory. The conveyor belt of talent coming through the academy really is superb, Joe Bretherton, Nick Gregson, Liam Marshall and Tom Davies all impressed and ensure Wigan’s squad really does look the strongest and deepest in Super League. One area of concern for me for the first 60 minutes against Hull was Wigan’s apparent lack of leadership on the field. At times, there seemed to be disorganisation in both attack and defence and no one player looking to control the game from Wigan – comparing that with Hull who had Sneyd, Ellis, Minachello, Kelly and Houghton (until he went off injured).
Back in 2010, Michael Maguire appointed a leadership team, which enabled the captaincy to be shared amongst a group of players, with O’Loughlin reassuming full-time captaincy dutiesin 2011. At the moment Wigan face a real leadership gap – with O’Loughlin, Farrell, McIllorum and Sam Tomkins injured – the leadership “group” on Friday was pretty much Thomas Leuluai and Joel Tomkins. Due to the ongoing injuries there is a real need for the more experienced younger players to step up and take over the leadership duties much like Sean O’Loughlin had to do when Andrew Farrell left. That may seem like a lot of pressure on young players but an overreliance on the likes of O’Loughlin might see us have a leadership gap in a year or two - look at what happened to Leeds when they lost three influential leaders – likewise Wigan after losing Farrell and Radlinski.
A mini leadership group of the likes of Powell, Williams, Gelling, Isa for example is probably needed, if not in name but in action on the field. The onus will be on the likes of Powell and Williams to develop their leadership skills due to their position on the field and I think with a little more experienced in those areas in the art of controlling the game, we may have seen Wigan get back into the game earlier last Friday night. It may seem like a harsh criticism of an excellent generation of Wigan players but I think those skills are ones, once learnt, will convert this excellent team into a truly dominant one.
Despite the defeat, the end to the unbeaten start to the season, and the drop to fourth in the Super league table, I can’t say I am too disappointed or downbeat following last weekend. What a difference an hour makes, because if you asked me after 20 minutes when Wigan were trailing 18-0 at home to Hull FC what my thoughts were, I’d have told you I was expecting a cricket score and that the injuries had finally taken their toll.
Fast forward to the end of the game and the Warriors were unlucky not to have won the game. Hull bullied Wigan in the first half and every time Wigan got close, FC found a way to defend their line and more often than not bundled the Warriors into touch.
It seemed as though Hull were trying to close the game out from the 20th minute and when Shaul scooted over from the first set in the second half you got the impression that Hull switched off thinking “job done.”
But the one thing this Wigan side have had for a couple of seasons now is a never-say-die attitude and slowly but surely the Warriors clawed their way back into the game, passes were sticking, breaks were being made and Wigan dominated. Sadly the Warriors ran out of time but I think the reaction from the fans on social media summed up the feeling of pride rather than disappointment and that was echoed with Shaun Wane’s comments following the defeat.
Hull will be one of Wigan’s main rivals for silverware this season as they were last year when they scooped up the Challenge Cup as well as coming close in the race for the League Leaders Shield and falling short against Wigan in the semi-finals of the playoffs.
Hull won’t fancy their chances when up against a stronger Wigan side as the season progresses I’m sure.
The Warriors travel to Leeds Rhinos this week and who would have thought a few weeks ago that Leeds would be above Wigan in the standings at this point (albeit having played an extra game) and Wane will hopefully have some reinforcements back as we hit a crucial stage of the season with early pace setters Castleford and the Good Friday derby coming in the next few weeks.
The Grand Final obviously won’t be decided at this stage but Wigan will need to keep racking up points if they want to remain in the hunt for the League Leaders Shield.