Our 18th man columnists discuss signings, Huddersfield and Toronto...
WARRINGTON AND LEEDS HAVE MADE BIG-NAME SIGNINGS THIS WEEK – DO WIGAN NEED ONE FOR 2019?
Darren Wrudd: I don’t think a big-name signing is necessary at Wigan. If they were a high-quality player, with commitment to come to play in the UK, fair enough. But I don’t have many gaps on the team sheet if I am being honest. Gabriel Hamlin has shown he could be a top-drawer pack man, although whether he will make a loose forward is still open to debate. But with Sean O’Loughlin not doing too many 80-minute stints this year, it may be an option to look at. With our forwards fit and healthy, we surely have a full squad, but the half-back scenario of swapping mid-game I don’t like if I am honest.
We need to develop some pure half-back partnerships like Josh Woods and Sam Powell. With good game-time together, they could certainly be the future of the club. So no doubt the new coach will want to stamp his mark, but buying in a big-name is not the way forward for me.
Sean Lawless: I don’t think Wigan need a big-name signing necessarily. They perhaps need to make certainty over the head coach role a priority before any major signings are needed. We do have a marquee player in the form of George Williams signed up for 2019 and, with Zak Hardaker – a former Man of Steel – also on his way, I would argue Wigan were the first with a big-name signing.
David Bailey: Wigan shouldn’t go out and sign a marquee player simply because they can. A marquee player needs to be able to make a difference and, as much as I don’t want to see it, Wigan should let John Bateman go if the only way to keep him is on a marquee salary. Hand on heart, I can’t say Sam Tomkins or George Williams have justified their marquee status so, unless you have a top, top player coming in, why upset the balance? Let’s not forget the Warriors have Zak Hardaker coming in for next year, who could feel like a marquee player. Plus Joe Greenwood was originally for next season, but the Joel Tomkins saga meant we got him early. Had Shaun Wane been staying, I don’t think there would be any more signings, as he has always been brave in handing first-team shirts to youth. But of course a new coach may want to add his own mark to the squad.
Jon Lyon: We’ve been fortunate enough to watch some of the games greats in the past with the likes of Kenny, Miles, Renouf and Henry Paul. And while it is a thrill to see players of this ilk pull on the cherry and white, with the salary cap the way it is in Australia, I don’t think we’re likely to see top-quality NRL players in their prime over here. Usually there has been a fall out or some off field drama that has led to NRL players moving to Super League (I’m looking at you Barba, Carney, Monaghan). We’ve re-signed a lot of young players this season, presumably on much-improved contracts, and I think the money has been better spent on securing our local lads for the long term - as long as they are good enough, - than on someone who comes over for a season or two and then leaves when a better offer comes along. Zak Hardaker is a big enough signing anyway. I can’t wait to see how he links with George Williams, that prospect would whet the appetite of any Wigan fan.
HUDDERSFIELD AWAY TONIGHT – A COMFORTABLE TWO POINTS, OR NOT?
Darren Wrudd: It should be if you look at the table but, on reflection and looking at the way Huddersfield have played in recent weeks, they will be a tough team to break down. Their new coach, Simon Woolford, has them ticking all the boxes and completing the one-per-centers, with Danny Brough seemingly on top of his game again.
Players like Murphy can spoil the party with the body of a second row, but the attitude of a winger. It is nice to have Lockers back on board, albeit offset by the loss of Farrell. So if we are to make it look easy, we will need to work as hard as we did last week and keep ourselves in the race for top spot.
Sean Lawless: Huddersfield have been resurgent recently, and a lot of credit should be given to them. They look like they can and should avoid the qualifiers now, a task that looked very difficult only a couple of months ago. Wigan are missing a few big names and, with more debuts likely in the shape of Kibula and/or Partington, I think this should be a really good and close game.
David Bailey: When you are battling at the top of the table for a place in the top four, you should really be beating Huddersfield (that’s no disrespect to them by the way). Gone are the times when the Giants were a bogey team for the Warriors, when the coaching team of Anderson and Purtill used to rock up and bully the Warriors with a big, aggressive pack. That said, Huddersfield are in good form and battling to stay in the top eight. They are only two points clear of Leeds Rhinos, but with a more difficult run-in, so they will be scrabbling for every point. I don’t think any of the Super League clubs fancy the prospect of facing some of the teams sparkling at the top of the Championship, so I don’t believe it will be as easy as people are making out. The Warriors are in good form, though, and showed their fighting spirit against Warrington, so I do expect a win to continue the good form.
Jon Lyon: This is a huge game for Huddersfield if they want to finish in the top eight. They bounced back from a disappointing defeat to Hull KR with a good win against Hull last week and, with Danny Brough back in the team and on form, anything could happen. With Sean O’Loughlin returning for Wigan with Romain Navarette, I would hope we can build on our recent upturn in form, especially with the Saints game on the horizon. I think it will be closer than the league table suggests, with us sneaking home by around eight points, hopefully with Josh Woods having yet another blinder.
TORONTO WOLFPACK HAVE TOPPED THE CHAMPIONSHIP – DOES THE PROSPECT OF THEM IN SUPER LEAGUE EXCITE OR WORRY YOU?
Darren Wrudd: I would not say nervous at all, but I am not really excited by it. Take a wealthy chap with an interest in Rugby League – let him form a team from half way around the world, and stuff it with players of decent calibre, far above the competition standard he is allowed to join. Bend the fixtures so he can develop a home crowd and watch the team win the League Leaders’ Shield.
Not really impressive, its like Wigan running a season in the championship and being surprised if we finish top. The gap in quality between Super League and Championship is quite a lot, so first they have to get here. But after that, is it worth one of our grass-roots clubs going down and facing financial hardship to force in another foreign team? I certainly don’t think so, and would not let it happen. Build our home game, first and foremost to invest in our clubs and make us stronger as a sport, don’t dilute it with even more overseas clubs.
Sean Lawless: I am really looking forward to watching the Toronto story continue in later stages of 2018, to see how they perform against Super League opposition. Their clash in the Challenge Cup against Warrington showed the Wolfpack in an unsavoury light but I am looking forward to the potential Toronto away trip in 2019 for Wigan.
David Bailey: Any fan of rugby league ‘nervous’ about Toronto being in Super League are probably the kind of fans that moan about attendances being in decline from their armchair. The Wolfpack have ruffled a few feathers of the heartland clubs, but so what? They are where they deserve to be. Toronto being in Super League, I believe would be the first transatlantic top-flight team in any sport. Once again rugby league is about being innovative and ground-breaking, and Wigan playing in Canada would be a fantastic experience for players and fans. I think they would bring a huge amount to Super League in terms of media buzz, and their commercial activities have been fantastic too.
Jon Lyon: I am dead against Toronto playing in any English league. It seems a farcical idea to me that a random club can come and play in a league thousands of miles away. I fail to see the long-term sustainability. Surely they can’t be funded to the extent they are by their owner indefinitely. Should we be expected to change our whole fixture schedules just to suit Toronto, also indefinitely? I’m all for expanding the game, and it would be great to see rugby league take off in Canada and America. But where’s the incentive for any other Canadian player or club, if they see Toronto playing Wigan and Leeds, and they are stuck playing the Montreal Mongeese or whoever is left in Canada. Any half-decent Canadian player would just be snapped up by Toronto leaving their domestic league weak, and the turnover of players is already ridiculous at the club.