The 18th man column: 'Wigan Warriors' biggest challengers will be themselves'

Our 18th man column is back! They give their thoughts on the new Super League season, the derby - and Wigan being snubbed for a World Cup venue...

Thursday, 31st January 2019, 9:33 am
Updated Thursday, 31st January 2019, 10:38 am
Adrian Lam begins his tenure as Wigan Warriors coach tonight

The new season is launched tonight – how excited are you?

Sean Lawless: Like a kid on Christmas morning and what a Christmas morning it is! St Helens away, first game of the season and as Champions. The build up to the season from the club and the Super League has whet the appetite for the 2019 season with new rules, new faces but for Wigan – the same expectations. Bring. It. On!

Jon Lyon: It’s hard to put into words how much I’m looking forward to the new season. Huge changes at Wigan, big signings across the league, numerous teams look capable of challenging for honours, exciting new rules brought in to speed up the game, the list goes on. I’m really excited to see the new expansive brand of rugby Wigan will play, when the weather improves. Our lightening quick back line and clever halves should make this a season to savour.

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David Bailey: It’s like Christmas isn’t it? A new season in with a bang and a chance to lay down an early marker against our nearest and dearest at the Totally wicked stadium. The games come thick and fast with Leeds on the horizon and that chance to get a fifth gold star against the Roosters. I think the excitement stems from the unknown as well. New coach, new players. A few teams have recruited well and it’s all to play for really. I’ve not anticipated a season so much for quite some time.

Robert Kenyon: It’s the same every year, the off season goes on for far too long. I’ve been watching plenty snooker and football since the season finished so I’ve not really been that bored, only when I’ve been watching football. It will be good to see how Lammy gets the team playing, he says it will be free flowing but I think that for teams to really play good attacking rugby then something needs to be done about the obstruction rule otherwise we are going to keep seeing the same move by every team, every game. It’s good that Super League is back but I’ll be honest though, I’m more excited about the NRL returning.

Darren Wrudd: Usually I feel a little apprehensive at the start of a season, not knowing what to expect or how we might have fared over winter, but this year I feel like a six year old on Christmas Eve. So much has changed and I feel we are stronger for it. Add to that the big start to the year’s fixtures and it can’t come soon enough.

Wigan-St Helens – what are you looking forward to the most?

Sean Lawless: As much as I would love to imagine a free flowing, new style, Lam-inspired performance from Wigan; I am expecting a 2018 like performance given the time of the year and given the conditions. It has to be workman like but the spark that George Williams and Zak Hardaker could produce is really exciting. We have arguably the best stand off in the competition and arguably the best fullback in the competition, if those two can combine against St Helens then I think we could see another Wigan victory in St Helens.

Jon Lyon: I’m disappointed this isn’t played later in the year when both teams have settled into their playing styles but there couldn’t be a bigger opening game.

St Helens’ front row is immense and winning the forward battle is hugely important, but I know newly appointed co-captain Clubby and Ben Flower will be well up for the challenge. If we can match their forwards and Sarge can keep Percival in check then we have the backs to win, and what a way to start the season that would be...

David Bailey: It’s hard to pick one really! There’s the anticipation on how Williams will flourish under Lam, or you could look at Joe Greenwood’s return to his old stomping ground. You could even make a case for seeing how Joe Bullock fares following his step up from Barrow (and if he follows in the footsteps of how well Walmsley has fared for Saints then we are onto a winner) but for me the big thing will be how Hardaker settles in. I was fortunate enough to be at the launch dinner and although all of the players took time to speak to my daughter Daisy and pose for pictures, Hardaker was the only one to ask her name and it’s little touches like that which show the measure of a man. I hope he has turned a corner because if he has then what a player Wigan have got.

Robert Kenyon: I’m looking forward to watching the new signings in Hardaker and Coote in action with two positive coaches who want to attack. It’ll be good to watch later in the season when both attacks are clicking in the nice weather that we usually get for half an hour in June. Shaun Wane has set the work ethic and the defence for Lammy to build on. It will be good to see that flair.

Darren Wrudd: At the pre season dinner this year, I could not help but notice just how big our team seems to be getting. With lads like Samy Kibula and Liam Byrne upping the average considerably. The competition for places means that we should see some real domination from our forwards if they are to hold down a starting spot and we need to start as we mean to continue against the old enemy. The conditions won’t lend themselves to flowing summer rugby, but a dominant force should keep us on top. I am looking forward to some good old fashioned grit down the middle.

Finish this sentence. Wigan’s biggest challengers for silverware this season are....

Sean Lawless: Themselves. The sensible answer to that question I guess would be to look at the likes of Warrington, St Helens and Leeds who have invested heavily in NRL stars. But Wigan have the foundation to go again in 2019 and their biggest challenge is going to be mindset of, “this is a transition year.” Get rid of that idea and Wigan will be a team that others will have to take very seriously once more.

Jon Lyon: Warrington. As laughable as that often is, in Blake Austin the Wire finally have a player who can get them over the line. I’m gutted for Kev Brown that his season is over already but Dec Patton deserves a good run in the side and they have a solid set of experienced forwards and backs who can dominate a game... is it finally their year? Only if they don’t play Wigan in a final...

David Bailey: Simply themselves. The ingredients are already there, sure there have been a few tweaks but I don’t think Wigan are weaker than last season at all. Sure the style will change but the winning culture is driven by the players. They are more than capable to gain further success this season. If I had to look at teams challenging for silverware, I’m going to ignore the bookies choices of Warrington and St Helens and look to the south of France. Catalans have recruited extremely well and have a familiar spine of Tomkins Smith and McIlorum.

If the Dragons play to their potential they could well reach Old Trafford.

Robert Kenyon: Up until Kevin Brown got injured I thought Warrington, they’re still up there but it’s got to be Saints. They got Big Bulled last year from Wigan and Justin Holbrook will be a lot wiser, I can see them mounting a major challenge. And as an outside bet I put money on Catalans, at least finishing in the play offs. The experience of Sam Tomkins may be enough to push them on a level.

Darren Wrudd: the usual suspects really, although I have a feeling that Warrington will put up a show in 2019. You can’t write off the chances of the Saints and I will be most interested to see how the Dragons go with their new blood. It’s quite exciting to see how things develop this year as anyone could start well and put on a challenge.

What do you think of the decision to snub Wigan’s DW Stadium for the 2021 World Cup?

Sean Lawless: Not giving Wigan a game for the 2021 World Cup is a brave move from the World Cup organisers but rather than getting upset about it, which I think many including the council have; they need to review why they haven’t been awarded one. Perhaps complacency in expecting a game or two has cost the DW Stadium dear in this case and hopefully it will ensure the council and the stadium look into the reasons for rejection and plan to rectify them

Jon Lyon: I think it’s a disgrace. Considering the DW could potentially be the home of the World Club Champions this year, adding to the marketing value of getting tickets booked early, to leave us out and give Warrington three games seems ridiculous. I guess we’ll have to see how the other venues sell to see if it’s the right decision or not, but for such a huge name in rugby league not to be hosting a game seems ludicrous.

David Bailey: To be totally honest. It doesn’t surprise me or bother me. The games have gone huge for places like the Emirates with smaller venues like Leigh sports Village for earlier games. A lot of the games will be close by and to be honest the DW only seems to get an atmosphere for huge games these days.

Robert Kenyon: It’s a smack in the face but doesn’t surprise me. Who in their right mind picks the venues for the Rugby League World Cup and picks venues in Coventry, Middlesbrough, Newcastle and Liverpool but doesn’t pick Wigan? It’s an easy sell out. I’m sure whoever is in charge is just trolling us rugby league fans by picking random locations just to wind people up. I could understand Arsenal’s stadium, it looks great and it’s one of my favourite stadiums, it’s in London too. But the other locations I just think ‘what’? They’ll spend so a couple of rubbish adverts up in Middlesbrough for a low crowd who will enjoy the spectacle but then will want more, there won’t be anything on offer and no teams in Middlesbrough so it will be wasted. It’s that I don’t get. If you’re having a game in a venue which isn’t rugby league territory then do it with a plan for people to get involved and stay involved. It’s absolutely bizarre. I was hoping Preston would have been a proper venue with a game at Deepdale, PNE haven’t had much success and with nearby Chorley and Leyland enjoying their rugby I thought the people from Preston would get behind the game and get involved at Leyland and Chorley. Now that makes sense to me, but in true fashion they messed it up.

Darren Wrudd: It must be a very difficult position sitting in an ivory tower, surrounded by ‘yes men’ to understand what damage exactly one could do to our sport as a whole by holding a grudge. Nigel Woods was ousted by a movement led by Mr Lenagan and it would seem that his personal preferences come before the good of our sport as a whole. I can’t wait to see the massive crowds drawn at Middlesborough, Coventry ( one game each) or Allerdale and Doncaster who get three games each. A previous World Cup almost bankrupted our game and it seems Woods is trying to do a more complete job this time. It is good that Leigh have three games along with Saints and Warrington but Allerdale? When will they learn? Our game deserves better and I predict crowds will be awful outside the game’ s hotspots.