Oliver Gildart 'way off' where he wants to be as Wigan Warriors milestone approaches
He is only 22 and Oliver Gildart has already won a World Club Challenge and two Grand Finals.
He has played at Wembley, scored one of England’s most memorable solo tries in recent years, and tonight is set to chalk up his milestone 100th game for Wigan.
And the best bit?
“I’m nowhere near where I want to be,” he admitted. “They say you’re probably in your prime at 25 so I’ve got a few years before then.
“Don’t get me wrong, if I can be up there as one of the best at my age I’m happy.
“But I’m way off where I want to be – physically and mentally.”
Gildart has done remarkably well to cement a place in the Wigan side since his debut in August 2015.
He marked that occasion with a scorching try against Warrington – having been given an early baptism of fire.
“My first tackle was on Ben Westwood – he arced his run towards me, smashed me in the face with the elbow and I thought, ‘This is what it’s like, is it?!’,” he smiled.
For all he has achieved, Gildart, son of ex-player Ian, is certainly not content with his status in the game.
When he speaks of rival centres, he shakes his head in disappointment at a recent duel.
“Saints game, Naiqama, he did me once,” he says. “That annoyed me.”
Offering an insight into how he has improved his form, Gildart revealed he studied footage of Gary Connolly – at his dad’s suggestion – to tighten up his defence.
“Gary wasn’t the biggest player, either, which is good for me because I’ve always heard comments like, ‘He’s not big enough’, coming through,” he said.
“Waney was big on me being good defensively and I’ve got to a point now where I’m happy with how consistent I am in that area.”
In attack, his pace, evasiveness and flick passes have lit up the biggest of stages; he marked his England debut against New Zealand last autumn with a stunning touchdown and has forged a lethal combination with winger Joe Burgess – a former team-mate in the St Edmund Arrowsmith school side.
Indeed, since Burgess has returned to the side, the Warriors’ left edge – including Joe Greenwood and George Williams – has been on fire, posting 23 of the Warriors’ 29 tries.
But scoring tries hasn’t been the problem for Adrian Lam’s side during a rocky start to the season – it has been stopping them.
At Wakefield, they leaked four tries in six minutes of play to concede a winning position and the previous week, against Castleford, they threw away a 20-0 lead.
Even on Monday, when they won a thrilling 30-26 game against Salford, they trailed during the late stages having gone 14-0 up.
“The Cas’ game, it still annoys me because we should have wrapped that up,” says Gildart.
“Looking back, I think we lacked a couple of experienced middles. Don’t get me wrong, I’m buzzing for all the young lads who are getting their chance and they’re trying so hard, but when you come up against big bodies like Liam Watts it’s tough, having not played Super League to doing 60 minutes against one of the dominant packs on a really tight pitch.
“I think if we’d had a Benny (Flower) or Lockers in there, along with a couple of the younger players, it might have been different.”
This evening’s game is followed by the visit of lowly London Broncos next Thursday – a golden chance for Lam’s ninth-placed side to climb towards the top-five play-offs positions.
“I’ve felt confident going into every game we’ve played – I’ve not felt rattled,” said Gildart. We’ve not been pumped, a few of the big teams have had heavy defeats, but we’ve been in every game.
“We’ve just had those small passages when we’ve switched off and it’s cost us.
“But if we can win these next two games, we can go into the Challenge Cup game (against Warrington) with some momentum behind us.
“I know the circumstances were different but we were here last year when people were writing us off, and we went on and won the Grand Final. Hopefully we can prove the doubters wrong again.”