The 18th Man Column: We need visionaries in charge of the sport

Tom Burgess takes on the Samoa defence last time England faced them in 2014 'but will fans pay to stream this year's match to their devices?
Tom Burgess takes on the Samoa defence last time England faced them in 2014 'but will fans pay to stream this year's match to their devices?

News this week is that the England v Samoa game is to be streamed at a cost, even though the BBC wanted to air the game live.

Another stupid decision by the RFL.

This is the last straw, it seems they are intent on ruining the game, the only saving grace is that they’ve allowed the increase in the cap, at long last.

We need visionaries in charge of the game, not the ones who always seem to be on the defensive when criticised.

They seem to change things for change sake like the RFL badge/logo. What was the point and how much did it cost? We as a sport shouldn’t be wasting money on menial projects like rebranding (something the RFL did once before only 10 or so years ago). We should be concentrating on how we are to grow as a sport, to stop the player drain and improve the quality of the top level sport.

I mentioned earlier that the salary cap has been marginally improved, by £75,000 next year, £175,000 the next and £225,000 by 2020 rising to £2.1m. We also have an extra slot for the marquee players, so the likes or Marwan Koukash can put his money where his mouth is and buy the superstars he’s been promising for so long. I still don’t think it’s enough but it’s an improvement and the first rise since the inception at long last.

Just to put the slight rise into perspective, the union salary cap is £7m with two players from each team exempt plus players will earn money from playing internationals, with England players allegedly earning £22,000 per game. With 13 tests being played last year, my calculations make that £286,000 if someone played in all those games like Owen Farrell did. The appearance fees for England dwarfs almost anything on offer from league.

This is what we are competing against and although there has been a slight rise, when competing with union and the NRL what we have just done with the salary cap rise is akin to throwing a deck chair off the Titanic.

All in all I’m glad the cap has been raised, even if it’s just a drop in the ocean. What I don’t understand is if the £1.8m per year is given to clubs from the Sky money, why are they worried about raising the cap?

The clubs don’t need to worry about paying the players as it’s basically done for them. If clubs get £1.8 million a year from the TV deal then that should be the minimum spend in my opinion, then if the clubs want to spend more then they do so from their own coffers.

My theory is that if you have better players in the league you get a better competition, with a better competition you get more fans and more interest, if you have the fans and interest you get the sponsors and with that comes the money you can spend on better players. It sounds simple but that’s how it works. In the last 10 years the exact reverse has happened.

With the increase in the cap I see George Williams stopping with us for at least another two years before he wants to go to the NRL so that’s a bonus.

Let’s hope that this slight increase starts off the momentum in improving the sport in this country.

Robert Kenyon

If you’d have told me at the start of the season that Wigan would be approaching Good Friday on the back of a draw and three straight defeats, I’d have been more than a little worried.

On paper it doesn’t look great, but if you add some context to this, you can see why even now, the majority of sensible Warriors fans aren’t getting too hung up.

The three defeats have come against sides currently occupying three of the top four positions in Super League, and not one of the games was what you would deem a comprehensive victory even though Wigan were second best in most areas against Cas.

Add in to that the depleted nature of the squad and the fact that Wigan have played in parts some pretty good stuff and you can see why most Warriors fans aren’t too downbeat.

This game in my opinion was lost in the backline, Cas just had that little bit more experience and know-how in both attack and defence. Wigan had chances, particularly on the right, but too often the final balls from Tomkins, Forsyth and even Escare were finding the ground or the touchline rather than the man.

George Williams’ kicks on the last tackle were more often than not aimed at Joel Monaghan and the former Warrington winger gobbled them up with ease whether a short grubber or high bomb.

The fact that Daryl Powell hailed this game as the Tigers’ best win of the season speaks volumes for me, and I’d happily give Cas a 17-point start later in the season should Wigan have the likes of Sam Tomkins, Joe Burgess, Anthony Gelling, Oliver Gildart, Dom Manfredi, Micky McIlorum, John Bateman and Sean O’Loughlin available.

Speaking of the 17-point margin, there’s a fine line between confidence and arrogance and I have to say Luke Gale’s decision to take a last minute drop goal (which made no difference on the result) smacked of the latter, and it’s little things like that, that players will remember the next time the sides face one another. It’s not too far around the corner and hopefully Wigan will have a few reinforcements back.

We now move on to the traditional Good Friday derby (or just Friday as it’s been known in St Helens for the last few years).

There is no better game than this to get Shaun Wane to rally the troops and put up a big game.

Saints are really off form this season and look likely to be without James Roby. Last week they threw away a promising 14-0 lead against Huddersfield to draw 14-all. There are plenty of rumours that Wigan could welcome back the likes of Gelling, Sean O’Loughlin and whisper it quietly Micky McIlorum for this game which would be a huge boost.

Either way, despite current form and lack of confidence in both camps, this will still be the biggest game on Friday, despite some Yorkshire journalists claims to the contrary.

David Bailey

The sacking of Keiron Cunningham arguably now makes Wigan’s task on Good Friday even more difficult. As well as trying to break a winless streak of four games, Wigan now have to prepare for a game in which they are likely to come up against the unexpected.

Facing a side managed by Cunningham would probably have been easier to prepare for, Shaun Wane would be able to watch back tapes and prepare for certain traits in their game - which, if we are being frank, was an un-Saints style of conservative rugby.

In charge of Saints will be Sean Long - can Wigan take some solace from the fact that he was Cunningham’s assistant? As such, can we expect a similar style and brand of rugby? I doubt it - Long is anything but predictable and conservative. The man who was unceremoniously rejected at Wigan has a good history of turning Wigan v Saints games into a nightmare for Wigan fans - can he inspire a Saints side on Friday?

There is always two schools of thought when losing a manager, it can either galvanize a side to perform much better, in which the new coach or caretaker coach experiences a so-called honeymoon period a la Craig Shakespeare at Leicester City; Brian Noble at Wigan.

Alternatively, the players can start feeling sorry for themselves and as such, the demise continues, see Rick Stone at Huddersfield.

It will be interesting to see whether the sacking of Cunningham does have an effect on the preparations for Wigan or whether they decide to focus more on improving their own game, Wane mentioned the need for improvement in defence and the end of sets – hopefully that will be the case come Friday.

What will it be on Friday? Well, if there was ever a game to get a response - it would be a derby game and with Saints practically having their best 17 available to pick from, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a galvanised, attacking display from St Helens come Friday. All in all, it makes for a more intriguing game and one that Wigan will hopefully have some first teamers back for.

Sean Lawless

I am not really sure what to make of the Castleford game. Shaun Wane won’t make excuses as it sets the wrong precedent in the psychology of the players, but I do think that fatigue and the mixture of over exposed youngsters and overworked senior players is taking its toll.

I know that it seems each week we are told that more players are ‘due back’ but this non-crisis injury spree which began early in 2016 is becoming tedious.

When will our luck begin to turn? For instance this weekend we expect to see Michael McIlorum return whilst we suspect that our current bedrock player Sam Powell will struggle for fitness, it’s like a revolving door to the physio’s room as we get one in and one out.

That said, we continue to show a great spirit throughout the squad, even if some embarrassing defence saw us lose a most winnable game. I am confident though, that as we do get our squad back to strength, that the clubs who are only just beating us will simply not stand a chance.

The game of rugby league can feel so fickle though as the bronze immortalised Kieran Cunningham is unceremoniously shown the door the week before arguably the biggest game in the Saints calendar.

I feel that Cunningham has not been given the chance he deserved but this is what you get by landing the top job when perhaps you have an apprenticeship still to serve.

As a player he was a terrifying prospect to any defence, but what he has instilled into the current Saints squad seems to be lacking. One thing is for sure though, after a coach is sent packing there is always a strong reaction from the squad and with such a well respected personality as Cunningham, we will need to be on guard as a guilt ridden Saints side come to set things right.

If ever the Wigan players needed a shot in the arm to get things together is the news that Sean Long may be in charge in the interim, how good would it feel to put a frown on that one?

Darren Wrudd

I can’t remember the last time I turned up to a Wigan game expecting us to get beaten, not that we might not have an outside chance of a win, but realistically thinking we could well be on the end of a tonking. That was certainly the feeling as I entered the DW Stadium on Thursday night. I don’t know if I underestimated, once again, just how good our young lads are, or if I overestimated the opposition.

To listen to the so-called experts and to read social media you’d think we were playing the Kangaroos of ‘82. The greatest rugby team since, well, maybe Wigan in the Graham Lowe era, defensively superb, free-flowing rugby, scoring tries from all over the field.

They certainly did against Leeds, but there wasn’t much sign of that against our young heroes.

It speaks volumes to say I was disappointed to leave having watched Wigan lose. Castleford’s attack was mostly on the back of their kicking game, Luke Gale doing a wonderful Bobbie Goulding impression with his repeated bombs, most, if not all, were superbly dealt with by our very young back three.

The frustration at the loss compounded by the fact that at least two of Cas’s tries didn’t come from any kind of quality play, but from awful missed one-on-one tackles, something of a rarity from Wigan’s usually solid defence.

The main culprit of the lack of ‘D’, as Shaun Wane loves to call it, was Taulima Tautai, showing an unwillingness to put his shoulder in, choosing instead to opt for a bit of arm grabbing. It’s something I have no doubt he regretted in training on Friday when Mr Wane got hold of him.

Those two errors were a shame as offensively he was outstanding, making a huge impact off the bench going forward, by far and away our most damaging runner of the night.

A word of warning to Castleford, many a team have started a season well only to fade.

Gale’s arrogance at saluting the crowd as he scored only the Tigers second try in the just the 26thminute was nowhere to be seen nine minutes later as Escare rounded him with ease to open Wigan’s scoring.

The Tigers may well have gone on to win with what looked a convincing score line, but if Joel Tomkins’ pass near the end had found its mark rather than a speedy Greg Eden it would have been a nail biting finish for Mr Gale and Co.

It takes a lot more than throwing the ball around to win the trophies at the back end of the season, just ask Warrington!

Jon Lyon

Last week was the first game of the season that we deservedly lost. We played well in parts, but I felt that Castleford could’ve turned it on at any point. In the first half, Wigan defended well, but the Tigers would have a great little spell that was helped by some soft tackling from the Warriors.

The second Castleford try was the worst to concede. Hardaker just brushed through our defence with ease. It was frustrating, as up until that point, we’d stood strong and held them out well.

For the fourth game running, we just didn’t get going in attack. Yeah, we’ve scored points in those games, but they’ve come from moments of brilliance by a specific player, whether that be Williams at Leeds or Escare against Castleford. We’ve had so much of the ball near the opponent’s line, but not been able to create anything significant.

We desperately need players back. But at the same time, in the last few weeks it’s been the more experienced players who have let us down. The draw with Huddersfield and the defeats to Hull and Leeds should all have been wins, but our rugby brain has been way off, and at times, we’ve looked at a loss for ideas. There’s nothing more frustrating than seeing us fling the ball around on the last, and Tautai ending up with it, not knowing what to do.

This week is the biggest and most nerve-racking week of the regular season for me. Wigan v Saints is, and always will be, the biggest game in Super League. I was going into it feeling rather confident, even without a win in four. But after reading that Keiron Cunningham was sacked on Monday, I can’t help but feel a little nervous. It has added some much-needed spice from a Saints perspective, and as a Wigan fan, I don’t know whether the sacking was a good thing, or a bad one.

The game itself should be close to a sell-out, and the atmosphere will be great, albeit a little nervous.

Both sides are in poor form, and desperate for a win, even more so with it being Good Friday. Wigan should hopefully have a few back this week, which can only boost the team.

They need to start winning sooner rather than later, and this is the perfect game to start in.

Ben Reid