Tonight will be an emotional night for Shaun Wane and the players and staff leaving Wigan at the end of the season.
Ahead of their final home match at the DW Stadium, I want to pay tribute to the contribution they’ve made.
Of all of them, I’ve known Sam Tomkins the longest.
We went to St John Fisher together and, though he was a year older, we played in the same school team together.
It was when I joined Wigan’s scholarship that I really got to know him.
I wish I had some pictures from then, because he was small, skinny, and I’m sure he won’t mind me saying, he never looked like he was going to be a first-teamer.
In the space of a year or so, he grew into a man’s body, and from then on he was unstoppable.
He didn’t really play much in his first year in the academy, but there was a big fight in the semi-final, a few players got banned and Sam got his chance in the Grand Final!
When he broke through into the first-team, he scored five tries on his debut and he grew from there. He always had that willingness to work and will to win – even as a scrawny kid – and it’s served him well over the years.
Waney was involved when I was on the scholarship but I only got to really know him when I was 15, and I started with the academy.
He instilled in us early that will to win.
Waney’s always been big on qualities like respect and honestly, and doing the right thing. He cares about making players being good people, too, and while he’s your mate he’ll tell you you’re doing something wrong – and players like that level of honesty.
Ryan Sutton has not long since turned 23 and he’s been playing first-team for years – and doing a good job.
To do that, at such an age, in his position, is quite remarkable.
And as for John Bateman, I’m pleased to see him shortlisted for the Steve Prescott Man of Steel and included in the DreamTeam.
He’s been growing and growing since he’s been at the club. We knew from the start we had a player on our hands – in the 2014 World Club Challenge he caused a lot of trouble and went on to force his way into the England side.
You wouldn’t think it, but he’s one of the strongest in the squad, he’s ultra-competitive and he finds a way to win – he’s got that never-say-die attitude which I think will serve him well in the NRL.
I’d also like to wish head of performance Mark Bitcon well, too. He was a part of the revolution when Michael Maguire took over and a big part of why the culture changed at the club. We may not have the same structures as then, but we have the same qualities and he’s been a big part of our success.
We’ve not really spoken about their departures but it’s in the back of our minds as we look to tomorrow’s semi-final. It’s been a while since I’ve known the squad to be as healthy as it is – I imagine 95 per cent of the lads are fit and available – and if we lose, we’ve no excuse.
That has put a bit of pressure on us but if we perform like we know we can, we’re confident we can get the job done against a Cas side which – while they’ve not been blowing sides away as consistently as last year – can certainly cause a lot of trouble on their day.