Talking RL: I'm optimistic about the next month. Here's why
Funny how things turn around.
Last year, Wigan were winning games but getting criticised for their attack. Now, they’re scoring plenty of points – but losing games!
Their defeat at Hull was their sixth in Super League – they won at Swinton in the Cup – without a victory.
When they went six games without a loss at the start of the year – including the considerable scalp of Cronulla in the World Club Challenge – I didn’t expect they’d trample over all-comers from then on.
So by the same logic, I’m not getting too concerned now.
In fact, call me daft – I’ve been called far worse! – but I’m quite optimistic about what the next month has in store for Wigan.
And there’s a good reason for it.
It’s not just because of what they have done in the past, though history has made fools of plenty people who were too quick to press the panic button.
I mentioned after the draw at the Magic Weekend and the derby loss how different people have their own gauges for what they find acceptable or not.
But everyone seems to be in agreement that the last two performances – against Wakefield and Hull FC – have not been good enough.
They’ve been, in spells – and here’s a word rarely used to describe Shaun Wane’s sides – soft.
But the change in personnel, and fixtures, offer some genuine encouragement.
Tonight, Wigan don’t look significantly strengthened, given how the return of Oliver Gildart has been offset by the loss of Liam Farrell and Sam Powell from last week’s side.
I’m looking forward to seeing Gildart back on the pitch now he has recovered from a back injury caused by a crusher tackle by Brett Ferres (and not by Wane over-working him in training!).
He scored five tries in his first three games, remember, and out-classed Jack Bird – a New South Wales Origin centre – in the World Club Challenge.
In the England left-centre debate between Zak Hardaker and Mark Percival – two excellent players, no doubt – I can’t help feel that, if Gildart can pick up where he left off, he may throw his name into the mix.
But it’s the pack where Wane could do with some reinforcements, and the return of three England forwards in the next couple weeks – Farrell and Sean O’Loughlin for the cup game with Warrington, and John Bateman in or around the same time – will provide them with a huge lift.
They’ve missed Bateman’s mongrel. Same goes for Sam Tomkins, who is also in contention for a return within the next two weeks.
After such a long lay-off with a broken foot, I’m not going to guess whether Sam will have the same pace, grace and evasiveness straight-away.
But what I always liked most about the full-back was his competitiveness.
He’s spiky, niggly, relentless.
Qualities the Wigan team have been lacking in recent weeks – he’ll be a huge asset for the fixtures coming up.
Which conveniently (okay, deliberately), brings me onto those fixtures.
Yes, Wigan are now closer to the bottom-four than the top-four after a disappointing run of results.
But they’ve played sides above them in the table, as well as a rejuvenated St Helens.
Their next six games are all against sides below them in the table. Which is no guarantee they’ll win them, of course – and Super League has been richer for the greater unpredictability this year – but it’s far less daunting a run.
And consider, too, the sides above them play each other over the next few weeks.
This weekend, round 18, Salford face Hull FC and Wakefield take on Leeds.
In round 19, Cas’ face Leeds, Hull face Wakefield.
Week after? Cas’ face Hull.
Sorry for stating the blatantly obvious – but they all can’t get the points!
Which is why climbing into the top-four positions may not be as hard as the table currently makes it look – if they start winning.
For now, they just need a win.
An ugly, scraggy, scrappy win will do. Just to give them a kick-start into a crucial month ahead.