Our 18th man columnists discuss the Challenge Cup changes, the international schedule - and what they hope Adrian Lam brings to Wigan...
As Adrian Lam begins work as Wigan coach, what do you hope he brings - and does he need to recruit in any positions?
Sean Lawless: I watched the Golden Point episode with Lam and Edwards back again this week and their is a constant referral throughout to how Wigan haven’t finished their recruitment etc. Nothing much has changed in four months, so I would assume that Adrian Lam will want to add to his squad, there are plenty of journeymen out of contract at the moment who I hope we avoid – I would like to see us go into the season with the squad we have though.
To pick out one thing that I am looking forward to seeing under Adrian Lam, is George Williams. If Williams wants to play in the NRL then the 2019 season has to be his season to really shine and be in Man of Steel contention.
Jon Lyon: I am already counting down the days until the season starts. With the style of rugby Lammy showed as a player I think we are all looking for more attacking flair this season. We certainly have the pace in our backline to suit a more expansive style of play and I hope we get to the point in games where we now put on a decent score rather than getting ahead and taking our foot off the pedal. It is also vital though that we keep the incredible defensive attitude fostered by Shaun Wane.
While there have been some big losses to the playing roster, our first choice 17 is still full of outstanding talent. When injuries start to pinch is when we might feel the loss of Bateman, Sutton and Sam. I’m still unsure what exactly is happening playing wise with Zak Hardaker, so if Escare were to get injured we seem to be lacking in full back cover. Hopefully Chris Hankinson can fully recover from his injury and add to his early promise otherwise we are short in centre cover.
Other than that the only problem we seem to have is the lack of a quality goal kicker. Whether this is addressed by signing someone like the oft-mooted Josh Drinkwater, or we bring Charlie Hodgson back in to help teach Escare or George Williams I’m not sure, but a good goal kicker is vital come the back end of the season in the tight games.
Darren Wrudd: Adrian Lam for anyone who knows of him, is renowned for his understanding of the game and vision of what is required. He is often referred to by past team-mates as the one who taught them the most. I am hoping he brings that with him and I feel sure he will. I can imagine seeing George Williams develop into his full potential under Lam but I hope that he does not just turn his back on Wigan if we build him into a superstar. As for other positions, it is difficult to see just how the halves will look with Tommy and Morgan filling in and Hardaker at the back. The edges we have enough talent for two Super League sides, so competition will be great and if you look at the pack there is not much wrong with the high quality we have available there too. So no, I would work on the squad we have and see how we run.
David Bailey: Wigan have made their name for almost the last decade as a tough, no-nonsense, defence at all costs team. Under Madge and then Wane the Warriors were universally disliked because they could get under your skin and take the physical side of the game right to the edge (and sometimes over it). I’d like to think the culture instilled in the Wigan side will remain under Radlinski’s watch but perhaps Lam can bring us a little more attacking verve and he can perhaps give the likes of George Williams and Josh Woods an insight to take their games to a different level. I honestly don’t really see too much needed in terms of recruitment. Greenwood is effectively Bateman’s replacement, Bullock for Sutton and Hardaker for Sam. Hankinson may offer some competition in the centres and Kibula may join Partington in the first team ranks and Hamlin will be that little bit more settled. Maybe a half back is on the cards but I’m not sure who is available that will improve the squad. Let’s not forget that Wigan were mightily impressive when Powell and Tommy switched roles mid-season.
The Challenge Cup Final will move to July in2020 and feature - as a curtain-raiser - a new competition involving lower-league outfits from next season. Good move?
Sean Lawless: On the face of it, it seems like a really good idea and a great initiative to get more people to attend the Wembley showpiece and it opens up the possibility of playing at Wembley to more teams. As more details emerge then I am sure this will be cleared up, but what happens if a Championship side gets to the 1895 Cup Final and remarkably, the Challenge Cup Final? Surely as a sport, we are not so arrogant to be writing off a potential disaster by saying, it will never happen?
Jon Lyon: There has been a lot of calls from fans to move the Challenge Cup Final to earlier in the season and this will be a popular decision. Moving the game away from a bank holiday weekend and further away from the Grand Final should help improve the attendance.
I have mixed feelings about the new 1895 Cup. One the one hand it is a greater incentive to supporters to attend the cup final with the offer of an extra game, and with four teams instead of two it should also help increase the attendance.
On the other, playing at Wembley is surely a huge highlight of any rugby players career, and it feels to me slightly devalued if that achievement happens at what is, no disrespect intended, clearly a second rate competition. There is also the huge assumption, which is more than likely but not impossible, that a championship or L1 team won’t make the Challenge Cup final. I wonder what the back up plan is if that unlikely scenario occurs.
Darren Wrudd: It’s a great move to bring the Challenge Cup forward to July, midsummer we have no home games anyway. Many people have been asking for it to be brought back earlier as it used to be, but I think this strikes a nice balance. It is far enough away from the Grand Final so that it does not detract and so may even be promoted more for that. As for the lower league cup competition as a curtain raiser, not sure. If it means not showing the schools final which has seen some great young lads play on the big stage and go on to greater things, then I would say no. But if the comp runs alongside it, then it will make it a great day out for sure. However, in the unlikely event that a lower league side gets to the Challenge Cup final and also the final of their other cup, that would be an interesting day.
David Bailey: Let’s start with the easy one. The move to July for the final is long overdue. It just helps keep that momentum between rounds rather than the ridiculous two month gap we had between the quarter-finals and the semi-finals. It should keep the excitement and the profile of the competition firmly in the public and media eye over summer. With regards to the 1895 cup I’m a little bit torn. A part of me thinks that reaching Wembley should be one of the ultimate goals for any club and player but unfortunately it seems to be monopolised by the top few Super League clubs since the seedlings were introduced. I mean to me clubs should have to win more than three games to get to Wembley and I’d rather it be a totally unseeded draw earlier on so potentially Super League sides could knock each other out early on and give lower league sides a bit more of a chance to progress. The new competition may very well give some clubs a day out at Wembley that is currently out of their reach but for me it dilutes the dream of that famous old trophy. Will the new competition mean the end of stories like Sheffield Eagles or even Catalans Dragons? I hope not.
What do you think of the international calendar (GB tour in 2019, Nines World Cup, no Tests v Australia until 2020)?
Sean Lawless: We have an international calendar! It is a start, its not perfect but rather than criticising it, I am swayed to applaud it - it has only taken however many years to get to this stage. Naturally, there is a disappointment that Great Britain would be playing Australia but that just whets the appetite even more for 2020, all of sudden by having a barren period of games against Australia there is a real desire to see England v Australia once again; I am sure those games will sell out. Could that have been the intention all along?
Jon Lyon: It’s very disappointing not to be playing Australia for two years. After the success of the New Zealand Test Series, shocking last performance aside, and the Aussies poor showing against NZ last month, this is surely our best chance for a long time to beat them in a Test Series. Are the self proclaimed kings of rugby league running scared?
The GB Tour itinerary next year does look exciting though, with games against the likes of Fiji, Tonga, Samoa and PNG helping to expand interest in the international game and providing GB with some very tough tests.
I’m not a huge fan of the nines concept. It was tried, and in the end failed, in the NRL as a pre-season curtain raiser with many top players failing to take part and often at least one season-ending injury occurring before the season proper begins. It might sound glamorous on paper, but ultimately it doesn’t mean a lot and just adds a greater workload onto our already over stretched players.
Darren Wrudd: The Great Britain badge is something I am really proud to support and will open the door for a small number of players to join the big table at last, how that will help Wales, Ireland and Scotland is beyond me. But to have a proper tour is good for the players who go and will no doubt stir up some old emotions for some fiery confrontations. It is a real shame that Australia have shrunk into their shell and gone all scaredy cat at the thought of playing a tough England or GB side. But it confirms what I thought of them anyway. Spineless cheats who take their ball home if everything does not go their own way. They have lost a few big names and are on the run, pathetic.
The nines tour is a new one on me, not sure how it will affect our game but am keeping an open mind.
David Bailey: The biggest disappointment is the lack of an Ashes. Rugby League needs to strike while the iron is hot and with Australia deprived of the likes of Slater, Smith and Thurston plus more Brits not only playing in the NRL but actually standing out over there means that a closely fought series between the two old rivals could really ignite the game on a global scale.
Imagine the red and blue vee back against the iconic green and gold vee.
Growing up I don’t think a game sticks in my mind more than the unofficial fourth test in 1986.
I can still remember the poster with Brett Kenny leading out the Aussies: “Here they come, the mighty Kangaroos.”
I really hope that the ashes returns sooner rather than later. I think the nines World Cup should be great for the casual fans to get interested but it HAS to be shown on terrestrial TV and not hidden away.