The 18th man column: ‘If Sam leaves, c’est la vie’

Sam Tomkins at Catalans, the club he is tipped to join
Sam Tomkins at Catalans, the club he is tipped to join
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Our 18th man columnists discuss Leeds away, O’Loughlin’s future and the Tomkins saga...

Wigan have not won at Leeds since 2012. A quirk, a Headingley hoodoo or something else?

Shaun Wane

Shaun Wane

Jon Lyon: I don’t believe in hoodoos, and I don’t believe we can’t beat Leeds at Headingley on Friday, although it is Friday 13th.... Nope, utter rubbish, it’s just one of those things that happens in sport sometimes. In the same period we beat Leeds four times in a row at the Magic Weekends, and won six out of seven games at the DW stadium against them.

A similar quirk has been Wigan winning eight Good Friday fixtures in a row. Every year the supposed hoodoo was talked about more and more but as we saw this season, everything must come to an end, and if Saints can do it to us then why can’t we do it to Leeds!

Sean Lawless: Wigan’s record at Leeds is interesting to say the least, before the Good Friday game, Shaun Wane said that if he had lost eight Good Friday Derbies that he would be embarrassed – I wonder if he is embarrassed about the Leeds record? Leeds always raise their game for the visit of Wigan which certainly has a big impact but Wigan need to end that hoodoo sooner rather than later - they have a great chance of doing that on Friday.

Darren Wrudd: I know that sport can be rife for superstitious hoodoos and rituals, but I don’t buy into that at all. The reasons we have lost recently at Headingley are well documented and all too often have been down to squad selection due to injury crisis or the aftermath.

The referees, having trained at Headingly for many years, always smile on their home team too and some of the decisions simply belie belief even when the video ref gets involved. The Leeds squad seems to be coached in special techniques of throwing themselves on the floor to milk penalties in a tantrum and the officials often react in the manner of ‘get off my boy’ as the whistle toots again. If we get a fair shout, we will put one over the Rhinos on Friday and wipe the smug smile from Hetherington’s face, now that would cheer me up.

Robert Kenyon: I think it’s testament to Leeds as a team and their coach, Brian McDermott. Over the last few seasons I’ve watched the Leeds stalwarts retire and expected them to go to same way we did in the mid 2000s and Saints/Bradford did too, but Leeds are still going strong. The South Stand are really vocal at Headingley and will spur them on every home game, but the redevelopment could play into our hands. I can see this being a very close game, but I can see that losing run extending if I’m honest, Leeds by four in a very exciting game.

David Bailey: I don’t think it’s a hoodoo. Headingley is one of the better stadiums in the league and not one of those you’d class as a leveller. If you look at Leeds’ record over the last few years, yes their dominance has waned, but they have still been one of the better teams so I am sure Wigan’s record at Headingley would stand up to most other teams. Hopefully Wigan’s new found playing style will suit the wide open pitch and the Warriors can come away with a result otherwise questions will be asked about their big game temperament again having lost to Warrington and Saints already.

Related: Phil Wilkinson’s Talking RL column

How long can Sean O’Loughlin play on for (and brief thoughts on Saturday’s win)?

Jon Lyon: As far as I’m concerned Sean can play on for as long as he wants, and we should give him an open ended contract. He seems to get better year on year and his performance at Catalans was outstanding. How many players have the tackling ability and go forward of a prop and the passing and kicking game of a half back. I’m sure Sean won’t want to play on too long but he is clearly at the top of his game and if he can stay injury free he can certainly play for another couple of years.

After an appalling start against Catalans, to be losing 21-0 and then lose both Williams and Flower and still come away with the win is testament to the players’ grit and determination, and of O’Loughlin’s leadership qualities. I just wish Shaun Wane would use his half time team talk before the start of the matches from now on - my heart can’t take much more.

Sean Lawless: Realistically, can O’Loughlin play on in 2019 and the fact Wigan probably need him to, is perhaps the biggest concern! I think, SOL being spelled efficiency this season by Shaun Wane is helping him play some exceptional rugby, particularly last week. Should (when) Tomkins leaves, Wigan’s leadership pool will be reduced, and I don’t think they can afford to lose Leuluai, O’Loughlin and Tomkins in one hit – so get him signed up for one more year (again!). On Saturday’s result, full credit to the team and coaching staff for a fantastic turnaround, at halftime I was certainly resigned to a defeat.

Darren Wrudd: Lockers is one of those players that could just go on and on, only he will know how long it takes to recover each time and that will govern the decision I feel sure. I hope he can stay fit for another four or five seasons yet as he is certainly good enough earn selection on credit rather than reputation.

I think it is very special when a player like Sean comes along and we should enjoy and appreciate his talents whilst we can as he will be spoken of for decades to come. Saturday’s win against Catalans showed just how good a team we can be as well as how poor a performance we can put together. We need to identify the reasons for the first half hiccup and make sure they don’t become a habit rather than soaking up the praise for just how well we did against the poorest side in the league.

Robert Kenyon: I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again, we need to savour every last bit of Lockers playing. If he plays beyond this year I’ll be very happy but I can’t see him playing in the 2020 season. All I’d want is enough notice given by Lockers so we can say farewell to him whenever his last game may be.

He showed against Catalans his class and how we will miss him once he retires. I just wonder who will fill that void once he does go. McIllorum has left, Sam looks to be exiting, Joel isn’t getting any younger, Leuluai is looking at retiring at the year’s end. Are we heading towards another 2005/6 era in allowing all of our experienced players leave around the same time? I hope not. With regards to the Catalans game for me it was a painful first 50 minutes, it was only towards the end of the game where we switched on and just scraped it. It all stemmed from the disallowed Burgess try, if that try would have been given it would have been 30-nil at half time. To lose Williams and Flower was a massive blow but we showed the character to pull the game back and win, Lockers shouldering most of that because he’s superhuman.

David Bailey: Sean O’Loughlin proved once again that he is vital to Wigan playing well. Despite playing standoff he steered his side to a remarkable comeback win in the south of France when most had given up the ghost. The Warriors once again faltered to deceive in the first half and then had an excellent second half but better teams will punish the Warriors’ slow starts. It must be a huge headache to the club for how they will replace him when he does step down but thankfully he has adapted his playing style which means there aren’t really many signs of his career finishing. I think he could probably play on for another season after this one but he will leave some pretty big boots to fill especially if John Bateman decides to head down under.

Are you resigned to Sam Tomkins joining Catalans for 2019?

Jon Lyon: It would be very interesting to hear what Sam’s thoughts are. A four year contract is good security for someone at his stage of a career, which must be tempting. Catalans, though, seem to be on a downward spiral. They should be good enough to stay in Super League in the middle 8s, but is that enough for a competitor like Sam? He knows if he stays at Wigan he will be challenging for trophies, so I guess the question is, do Wigan want Sam?

We have been through this before though. When Ellery Hanley moved on how could we replace him? We did though, with Phil Clarke, and the same happened when he left and Farrell took over, then O’Loughlin took over from Faz. No matter how good the player who leaves, Wigan will always survive and thrive, because producing great players is what we do, as a club and a community. I hope Sam stays, but if he doesn’t, quite literally, c’est la vie.

Sean Lawless: I do think we have to be resigned to Sam Tomkins leaving for Catalans, unfortunately. I have debated the idea and tried to process it and I think you simply have to put yourself in the shoes of Tomkins with a young family – what an opportunity it is for them. Likewise, put yourself in the position that Ian Lenagan and Kris Radlinski are in, almost a lose-lose situation with the salary cap and trying to make all the pieces fit into a puzzle - a puzzle which doesn’t grow in size but the pieces do!

Darren Wrudd: No, I am not resigned to Sam Tomkins going to the south of France. The lad has come through the ranks here at Wigan and with such an influential player we need to do what we can to ensure we keep him here at Wigan as he could be in my opinion, potentially the best player in Super League. When you see the dedication of players like Lockers who has had many offers from other UK and Antipodean clubs over the years, but chosen to stay at his home town club, it seems sad that it all comes down to the deal these days. I hope Sam commits to Wigan and states his intention to remain here for his career if possible, but if not, I hope it’s not just about money.

Robert Kenyon: It was reported by ‘Moley’, the Australian rugby league mole who is usually always right about transfers so yes, he must be going. It’s a shame but if I’m honest, he shouldn’t have left us when he went to NZ Warriors. Loyalty works both ways and I’d be raving for him to be kept on had he not left us in his prime. If he is going I wish him all the best, could have been a hall of famer and a Wigan legend had he spent all his career at Wigan.

David Bailey: Having seen Sam Tomkins speaking to one of his NZ Warrior buddies on an Instagram post, where he said nothing has been decided for next year, and Shaun Wanes less than convincing rebuttal at the press conference ahead of the Catalans game I think that it’s all but agreed. Sam will get a lucrative contract for the next four years, Wigan will get a marquee player off their books and Warriors fans will once again be left scratching their heads. I am not sure if Wigan will bring in a marquee player to replace him or try and tempt the likes of John Bateman with a big offer but it’s never dull being a Wigan fan.