Four Warriors fans answer these questions as the Super League campaign enters the final stage – and predict the winners and losers.
ARE YOU HAPPY WITH WIGAN’S SEASON SO FAR?
SAM WHYTE: I’m relatively happy with our season up to this point. People had us written off for the season following our slow start and inconsistent away record but I think we’re slowly playing ourselves into form. The only disappointment I have is our early exit from the Challenge Cup for the second year running, as a trip to Wembley is always nice, but hopefully we can change that next year. Also, to go nearly all season unbeaten at home is something that shouldn’t go unnoticed either.
BILKO: The away form was a big concern but it’s improving. With Warrington out of contention and Saints in a bit of a sweat, I’m quite content at the moment.
DARREN WRUDD: I suppose looking back at the year so far, it’s a little disappointing to be honest. I know it may sound arrogant that we are sat in second place and still not totally happy, but it is only because we know just how good this squad can be. But for very poor games against Castleford, Salford and Catalans, we would probably be in top spot. Add to that the ridiculous way that we went out of the Challenge Cup playing a home game in Leigh and it feels like we have let ourselves down a little overall. I cannot criticise the effort from our players or coaching staff in any way though, but perhaps the experience for some of our younger players will help them next year in the big games.
JOE CHARNOCK: Not the best start for the Warriors. So obviously, we had the minority doom and gloom merchants shouting for Waney head. How sadly wrong, once again they were as we made wholesale changes to personnel plus injuries.
Williams was taking stick but proved them wrong with some top drawer performances. Burgess was another but again is playing better than ever. We are looking something like our best now as the Wires game showed.
ARE YOU IN FAVOUR OF TAKING THE CATALANS GAME TO LONDON?
SW: I am in favour of it, and I’m looking forward to making the trip to The Den too. Ian Lenagan has always spoken about wanting to expand and make rugby league have a presence in London, and I think Wigan are making the right steps to getting a footing down there. We’ve been widely criticised, by our fans and other supporters, for sacrificing one of our home Super 8’s games for a trip to London, but I can see the bigger picture and I think that the decision can only benefit Wigan Warriors in the long term.
BILKO: I fully understand and support the business reasons behind the decision but worry this will affect season ticket sales back home with Thursday night games already being a thorn in the side for some fans.
DW: Of course, after the home game at Leigh was such a failure and with our away form a little shaky overall, what wisdom is there in taking a Super 8s game to London? Now that is a tough question to answer and whilst hindsight will no doubt be an exact science once more, do we think it is a wise move? Long term, I think the game will develop into an annual away day that moves from ground to ground and will be loved by the Wigan fans, but as a first jolly, I can understand why so many fans are a little upset that yet again our home fixture is not at fortress DW. Personally, when first announced, I was not entirely behind the idea, but as I have had time to ponder, I will be first to admit that it has really grown on me. If we can promote this game of ours to a wider audience, it will surely benefit Wigan and rugby league in general, and this is one that we can promote in the correct ways, not the half cocked campaigns that Red Hall dream up.
JC: So next game we play Catalans at Millwall a game that some fans are against. I can understand their reasons with expense, but surely Lenegan has to be applauded. His endeavour to try to get blue chip companies to invest in the Warriors is a gamble but a bonus if he succeeds. The only thing Wigan fans are praying for is it doesn’t back fire on us. Here is looking forward to the run in and another trip to the Grand Final.
WHO HAS IMPRESSED THE MOST?
SW: I’d have to go with Michael McIlorum. We are a completely different team when Micky plays at 9, although our latest win away at Warrington would say otherwise. But for me, whenever he isn’t on the pitch, we seem to lose the intensity and aggression that he brings to the team. People heavily praise the likes of James Roby and Paul Aiton, and rightly so, but I think McIlorum is right up there with them and I don’t think that Micky gets the credit he deserves. This image of McIlorum of just being a ‘hardman’ does not do him justice.
BILKO: Micky Mac is a clear Wigan player of the season for me. Tony Clubb and young wingers Joe Burgess and Dom Manfredi also note worthy.
DW: A player who has really impressed me this year so far is Michael McIllorum. As tough as they come, he is quickly becoming the enforcer in the squad. He has changed his game a little this year and runs from dummy half much more whilst his defence has been simply awe inspiring. I am thrilled that he is set to stay here for the foreseeable future and is a player to build a team around.
WHO WILL WIN THE GRAND FINAL... AND WHO WILL THEY BEAT?
SW: I think it will be a Wigan and Leeds Grand Final, but I could not pick a winner out of the two. As we know all too well, things can happen on Grand Final day that can make you win/lose one, so it’s difficult to call. I would be hoping Leeds would be suffering from a Wembley hangover, just like in 2014, and we could sneak the win over them.
BILKO: If there is any justice, Leeds deserve to win it. They’ve been the most consistent team by far. But in 2012, Wigan were the best team but got pipped by a 5th placed Leeds side in the play offs. I’m hoping we turn the tables on them this time round.
DW: I actually think that the final this year will be Wigan-Leeds, with the high flying Rhinos getting the rub of every referee’s call, we will have to be squeaky clean and ferocious to put them off their game and win. Although it will not be mentioned much by the team, there is a real score to settle this year and we need to see it through and lift that trophy.
JC: We seem on this form certainties to reach the Grand Final and looking like Leeds. What a game that would be and from this season’s clashes I fancy Waney’s gang.
WILL ST HELENS MAKE THE PLAY-OFFS?
SW: I think they may just miss out, and it will all go down to their game with Castleford in a few weeks time. They’ve also got tough games against Leeds at Headingley, and ourselves at Langtree Park, so it’s a big ask for them to suddenly start to pick up results when they’re form and performances in recent weeks have let a lot to be desired. It’s a strange one as they were the team I was worried about most in the first few weeks of the season, now I’d be quite happy to meet them in the playoffs.
BILKO: I’m intrigued to see if the week off helps them but if they lose against Leeds this Friday they are in big trouble. Giving Wigan and Warrington an opportunity to knock them out of the play offs is something they need to avoid.
DW: I don’t think that Saint Helens will reach the final this year, although they will keep their playoff place. Saints’ form has been declining and I fear trouble in the camp as personalities clash will put paid to success this time round, but they will be back.
JC: Saints, who I still feel are the worst side to ever win a Grand Final, are struggling and may miss the boat. Wouldn’t it be great if they had to beat the Warriors to land a top four spot?
WHO SHOULD BE THE MAN OF STEEL - AND WHO WILL IT BE?
SW: In my personal opinion, I think it should be between Alex Walmsley and Adam Cuthbertson. Cuthbertson has been a revelation at Leeds, and his offload game is as good as anything I’ve ever seen in this league, a modern day Ali Lauititi when he was in his best form at the Rhinos. Walmsley is another who could easily take the award, with his metres alone proving just how important he is to St Helens. Wigan are missing a forward like Walmsley, in my opinion, because if he doesn’t play well, it usually means Saints don’t play well either.
BILKO: Adam Cuthbertson should be – and I think will be – Man of Steel. An immense signing for Leeds. If he was with Wigan, I doubt we’d have been sitting out the Wembley weekend.
DW: I would absolutely love to see Micky McIlorum receive the Man of Steel award this year, and it would be well deserved. For this young man they may even rename it man of granite! But I have no doubt that the results will be skewed once more and a choice of Roby (‘cause they love Roby), Peacock (because its the old fella’s last chance) or Lord Sinfield (because, well, just because) will probably get it.
JC: Mcllorum – what a player and leader this lad is. If a footballer would have had the horrific eye injury Micky had we would never had seen him for the season.