Talking RL: Where the Grand Final will be won
Wigan have certainly built an aura around them with the way they have played in recent weeks.
They aren’t stumbling into the Grand Final. They don’t have major surgery to make to their form before they run out at Old Trafford.
There was a lot to admire from their semi-final win against Hull FC - from their energetic start to Anthony Gelling’s ‘man of the people’ boast at the end - but it was the players’ willingness to work for each other which impressed me the most.
They are hungry for success and, while many would agree they have done well to reach this far, the comments coming from their camp don’t reflect that.
Simply reaching a fourth Grand Final in succession isn’t a success for them. They crave silverware. They want glory.
But at the same time, Wane and his players recognise the quality of their opponents this Saturday, and the fact 60,000 tickets had been sold by Monday perhaps reflects the anticipation of a quality, too-close-to-call encounter.
Wigan are missing seven players and their injury woes have not been over-stated - they are all frontline players.
I’d suggest all-but Lee Mossop would have starting spots if fit.
But the team Shaun Wane has put out in the last few weeks has been relatively settled, allowing them to polish their combinations.
And for all the players missing, Wigan have an even spread of talent, which is a testament to the management of the squad.
Quick backs, quality halfbacks, an imposing pack and a strong bench (how good is to see the Wrecking Ball Frank-Paul Nuuausala in this form?).
With Warrington, who are chasing a first Super League title, it’s easier to pick out their notable strengths.
Big-men Chris Hill and Ashton Sims eat metres down the middle, and the likes of jet-heeled Daryl Clark, Matty Russell and Stefan Ratchford scorch away at, or through, retreating defences.
More dummy-half darts than an Under-10s game, but the ploy is hugely-effective in rapidly sweeping them down field to within touching distance of their opponents’ line.
For all the wonderful tries these teams have scored this year, for all the quality they have in the halves and the backs, I imagine it will be Wigan’s ability to win the battles down the middle which will shape the outcome of this encounter.
Whatever your view, Ian Lenagan couldn’t be accused of sitting on the fence with his wide-ranging interview published yesterday.
On Super League, he said it has been ‘dumbed-down’ because increased funding is being ploughed into the Championship, rather than the top-flight.
I agree that the standard of this season has been mediocre for large spells.
It’s been competitive, yes, but at what level?
Something needs to be done. Is cutting the money to the second-tier the right way to do it?
They have certainly got much more money than they ever used to get – up to £750,000 a year, compared to the £90,000 previously pocketed – but I would feel uncomfortable with the idea of trimming it back.
Even if you took £1m destined for the Championship, and shared it out among the top-flight clubs, it would still be less than £100,000 each.
It needs something much bigger than that to re-energise the competition and raise the standard.
It would be too sweeping to suggest the Super 8s system is the problem, because under any structure, a poor game is a poor game.
And those fans harping for the ‘old’ structure seem to forget the problems that created (the long play-offs series, with poor crowds, for starters).
Sport, of course, thrives on healthy debate, and I like hearing different opinions.
But one point I imagine most would agree with Lenagan was his view about the uncertainty with the World Club Series.
Yes, I know the RFL is relying on the compliance from the NRL clubs. They can’t compel them to take part.
But Ian is right, it’s crazy to be sorting out these fixtures now.
Yesterday, beaten Grand Finalists Melbourne said they may not take part because it isn’t commercially viable.
There are only two professional leagues in the world – two – and the fact it isn’t sorted out is embarrassing, amateurish.
Finally, to his target of one trophy every two years. Is that bar set too high?
“You wouldn’t find Manchester United or Chelsea or any other big teams wanting to not win things,” he said.
But I can’t help wonder if they may have lower ambitions if they were prevented from spending any more on players’ salaries than the other Premier League sides!
When it comes to signing big-name but unreliable stars from the NRL, Catalans have plenty of previous.
And I can’t help wonder if it is hurting them more than they realise.
Not only do many of the A-listers from overseas not live up to their hype, and leave before they are expected.
But do some of the homegrown players get disillusioned, prompting to them to look elsewhere?
I plan to ask them, when I get a chance.
Frenchman Eloi Pelissier has joined Leigh and yesterday Wigan confirmed the signing of Romain Navarrete.
Shaun Wane’s track-record on unearthing and developing ‘project players’ is unrivalled, and I look forward to seeing how he moulds Navarrete.
Livewire French utility back Morgan Escare is set to follow... a player who could certainly deliver plenty of excitement
A tip of the hat to the RFL for releasing the voting forms for the Steve Prescott Man of Steel award.
Yes, it has been easy for fans to scan the list and poke fun at the selections.
Everyone has different views but, even with that in mind, there are some which are not to be taken seriously. David Taylor voted for his former Gold Coast Titans team-mate Beau Falloon... a player who was released by Leeds early because he failed to make an impact at Headingley. And I don’t think Greg Burke will mind me suggesting he wasn’t the best player in Super League this year – Hull FC’s Josh Bowden voted for him.
But that’s not the RFL’s fault. It’s those players.
And if they don’t want to take it seriously, we should know about it.
The Million Pound Game, which relegated Hull KR, had the most remarkable finish I’ve ever seen.
Two tries in two minutes to lock the scores, a winning drop-goal from 45m out... it was the type of ending which, if it was in one of those Disney kids sports films, you’d roll your eyes and say, ‘As if’.
It was incredible.
My problem wasn’t with the fact a team has been relegated, but with with the way it was glorified.
In a final, the losing team ends up with what they had before. Nothing.
Same with promotion play-offs games in football – the losing team remains in the league they have been in all year.
With the Million Pound Game, it was flipped around, so the winning team remained in the Super League but the losing team went down.
The financial impact it had for the losers was right there in the title, which was blazed across billboards and even the ball – the Million Pound Game. I didn’t like it.
I know those same emotions would be felt under any system of relegation, but to dress up a rugby league match like The Hunger Games? It’s not for me.