Our 18th man columnists discuss Wigan’s semi-final, Zak Hardaker’s future and the departing stars...
Wigan-Castleford - who do you think will win and why?
Robert Kenyon: I think we will win because Castleford have previous for bottling the big occasion, with some of their better players almost always having a shocker every time the game really matters.
Home advantage will certainly count but Castleford will travel in numbers to support their team, Cas play good rugby but I think our defence will be too hard to break down. It makes for a cracking spectacle and I can’t wait for it.
Jon Lyon: Last week’s nothing match against Saints aside, Castleford have convincingly won their previous five games, and have Luke Gale back and Greg Eden on fire.
Wigan, too, have been in good form, again last match aside, and I have to go with a home win. Hopefully the Wigan crowd can, for once, be at its vocal best. If not in a semi-final, then when?
We should also have O’Loughlin back, who could well be the difference on his own. Farrell, Greenwood and Bateman give us an embarrassment of riches in the back row and we have a settled back line at last.
It could all come down to whether Sam or the slightly rusty Luke Gale can convert the tries both teams are more than capable of scoring. I’m backing Sam to bring us home with a man of the match performance in his last game at the DW.
Other news: Warriors rescue Centurions
Sean Lawless: I feel that Castleford’s result against St Helens last week and the fact they didn’t score a single point has given me false hope and expectation for Friday night. I am expecting a Wigan win, I think the forwards is where the game will be won and lost and I just cant see Castleford being able to deal with a mean Wigan pack.
The return of Luke Gale has gone under the radar a little and he could be very important for Castleford but, prevent the platform for him to perform by dominating in the forwards and I expect to see Wigan return to Old Trafford.
Darren Wrudd: With a healthy squad, I think Wigan will edge the game against Castleford based on defensive commitment. With a few players out last week, we looked a little lost at times and without direction, but our defence was pretty much spot on throughout the game. This has been the benchmark of Shaun Wane’s tenure here at Wigan and that desire to defend and keep out the opposition has I believe been the foundation of success. Castleford will arrive full of confidence and this will be no easy game, it is a semi final after all. But I think we will send Powell and the assembled Yorkshire Puds home wishing they had drawn Saints instead.
David Bailey: Think and hope are two very different reactions. The Warriors have players back, and are full of confidence having already gone through the Super 8s unbeaten including the nervy edgy win over the Tigers a few weeks ago. It’s the last game at home for Wane, Tomkins, Bateman and Sutton (more on that later) and the fixture is at the DW so everything is pointing to a Warriors win. So it’s pretty nailed on that Cas will come and spoil the party. Wigan have looked a lot more fluid since the mid season switch of Leuluai and Powell.
The backs have been outstanding and Escare has been running riot late on. Manfredi looks like he has never been away. Wane has so many options to choose from on the pack that it’s almost embarrassing, Clubb, Flower, Tautai, Sutton, Hamlin, Navarette, Farrell, Bateman, Greenwood, O’Loughlin... the list goes on and it could be the forward battle that settles it.
Zak Hardaker - what was your reaction, and if he’s convicted, what do you want to happen next?
Robert Kenyon: I can’t say I’m too surprised, I knew the signing would bite us in the backside, I just didn’t think it would have been before he’d pulled a shirt on.
If it was one of the other players in the team on which this had happened to then I wouldn’t be calling for them to be released, so I think despite his past it wouldn’t be fair to get rid just yet but it would definitely be his first of three strikes, two more and he’s gone, simple as that. It would be interesting to see what exactly has happened with regards to the drink driving because we don’t know the severity of the incident, in my book he can save the apologies as actions speak louder than words.
Jon Lyon: Having had time to digest what’s happened, I am now torn as to what I think Wigan should do. My initial reaction, the printable version at least, was, ‘You must be joking.
Only just back and able to start training with the team, will Zak ever learn?’ This was supposed to be his last chance, so if he’s capable of treating it with such contempt is there any point in trying to help him?
I now think he needs serious help. His agent has suggested he needs to not drink during the season. I would go so far as to say he needs to stop drinking full stop. He needs support, and if Wigan don’t provide this, who will? I would insist he moves in with a senior player or member of staff if possible, starts some form of therapy for his drinking and other issues, does some form of community service and, laughable as it is, give him one final, final, final chance, for his sake more than ours. I worry what might happen if he is lost to the game and left to his own devices.
Sean Lawless: I have been torn on the Zak Hardaker issue but I think Wigan have to stand by him. Look, it isn’t great is it and of all the players and at all the times – it just isn’t great. However, Wigan should stand by him, support him and work with him.
I can understand why fans would want him gone but we need to be seen as a different club to others. Wigan should absolutely fine him, ban him, make him work in the community – whatever punishment as part of a rehabilitation process they see fit but Hardaker should be a Wigan player in 2019, 100 per cent.
Darren Wrudd: Wow, that’s a big question. Answering based on our current understandings would be an unfair stance to take as innocent until proven guilty still stands as the bedrock of our civilised society, beyond that one can only offer judgement on presumed guilt or innocence. I understand that he has not yet been inducted into the Wigan fold with our attitude towards these issues and as such may still be influenced by his previous situation, but after the statements of intent and commitment to changing his ways it seems the lad may have a problem which needs addressing on a personal level. The bottom line I think is that we will never truly know the full facts and what made him decide to proceed down his path, but I trust the club and the integrity of Mr Lenegan and Mr Radlinski to come away with the correct decision for the club and player.
David Bailey: An open letter – Zak, Zak, Zak, why? It’s day one of your fresh start and self labelled “last chance”. There are no fans more loyal and forgiving than Wiganers, but seriously, give us a chance. Wiganers are thick skinned and have been since the halcyon days of the ‘80s and ‘90s and fans of every other club take great delight in any misfortune befalling us. It’s more than likely jealousy (note the reaction to Sean O’Loughlin’s Dream Team inclusion), but you simply have to live with the higher standards expected at Wigan. Now, having been hit by someone who was “over the limit” the morning after a little under two years ago, it’s a subject I feel strongly on. This has been your first indiscretion whilst a Wigan player, so in my opinion you need to be given the chance to redeem yourself to those that have put their faith in you (Lenagan and Radlinski) but any other errors of judgement and I am afraid Wigan should show you the door.
Whatever the result, this will be the last DW home appearance for messrs Wane, Sutton, Tomkins and Bateman. What will you miss about each?
Robert Kenyon: I’ll miss Bateman’s tenacity and will to win, he’s like the Peperami character when he’s on the pitch, three stone wet through but fights well above his weight.
Sutton is an old school prop, a big tough lad with good hands plus he’s a Wigan lad.
Wane has done really well in bringing the youth through, his record of winning trophies speaks for itself and the way he has toughened up our defence has been excellent.
Sam’s leadership has been fantastic in his last spell, his first spell at the club I’m sure everyone will agree we saw a lot better performances from him I just think he’s been used in the wrong position, he’s far too intelligent and possesses such a good long kicking game to just play fullback, with his age and experience he’d have made a world-class scrum-half.
All four will be missed massively and we will struggle to replace them with better people and players, all four will be held in high regard by me and I thank them all massively and wish them well for the future.
Jon Lyon: Shaun Wane has given the best years of his life to our club, and will be remembered for inspiring many a late comeback, and mostly for being so committed to bringing through so many young, local lads to the first team. His passion has been a joy to watch. Sutton has been an outstanding young player who has always made a difference when coming off the bench, scoring some vital tries.
Sam Tomkins could have been a club legend had he not skipped off to the NRL and France. Nonetheless, he has been one of the most exciting players to watch in the last 10 years, proven by how much other fans boo him. It’s a shame he’s leaving now he’s back to his best.
John Bateman has been a fans’ favourite since he first pulled on a Wigan shirt, and has the best never-say-die spirit I have seen in a long time. I hope he is a success in the NRL, but I also hope he comes back to us as soon as possible.
Sean Lawless: I have been pretending that this day wouldn’t come but here it is! Gulp! Wane – what an incredible servant he has been to the club, not just as a manager but as a player, coach and assistant coach. I will certainly miss his passion for Wigan.
Sutton – I didn’t appreciate how big a player he has been for Wigan this season until he missed part of him, a good, solid forward who leaves a void for someone to fill.
Tomkins – his leadership this season on the field has been incredible, at times he has guided Wigan around the park, a different player than when he left in 2013 but a player I wish wasn’t leaving again!
Bateman – I honestly think we will look back at Bateman as one of the true Wigan greats, I expect him to kill it in the NRL and I am preparing myself for him not to return to Wigan due to being a hit in Australia. A once in a generation player.
Darren Wrudd: I probably won’t miss Sam Tomkins much if I am honest. Not the player he once was although still has the ability to change a game if he wants to, there are better utility halves which we should perhaps look to bring in and with the extra cash from losing some big names. Ryan Sutton and John Bateman will certainly be missed. Such iron in the pack will be hard to replace although with Joe Greenwood’s arrival and show of form, I think we will be fine in that department too. Shaun Wane however, now that will be a loss. Like a grumpy stick of rock, if you cut him in two it would say WIGAN through the middle. His commitment and desire to make this club successful, without doubt makes him one of the hardest working of the Warriors set up. The back bone of so many of the squad’s pathway through to the first team, losing Wane is no doubt our biggest loss for 2018 and will leave a great hole for Adrian Lam to fill.
David Bailey: Ryan Sutton has had his best season in a Warriors shirt, it’s always sad to see youngsters head down to Australia, but understandable and a complement to the youth system in place.
He has made his mark in a position usually dominated by more mature experienced players. Sam Tomkins has had a brilliant season for the Warriors, he was never going to come back with that same explosive burst that he had in his first spell and its a credit that he has reinvented himself to be a more creative influence and helping steer the team around the pitch. He’s also the man everyone loves to hate but a certain Yorkshireman will probably end up with that mantle if he get’s to play for the Warriors. John Bateman will be sorely missed. Dream team, Man of Steel nominee, his name is probably always the first on the teamsheet and is never less than an 8/10. As with Sutton, there is no ill feeling about his departure and maybe we will see him in a Cherry and White shirt once more (the only saving grace is Joe Greenwood has come in with a point to prove and Wigan will need to play to his strengths to make up for Bateman’s absence).
Finally, Shaun Wane, what more can be said about him, a passionate Wiganer, he just gets it.
He knows what this club means to the fans and his legacy will be that of success without compromise. He never went for the quick fix and always gave youth a chance. I hope the Warriors can end with a Grand Final success because if he doesn’t it could tarnish his image and reputation.
Wigan will be looking to a bright future with Lam and then Edwards, but Wane will go down as one of the very best.