The 18th Man column: 'Adrian Lam has earned a new Wigan Warriors deal'
Our 18th man columnists discuss Lam's future, Wigan's planning and the 12th Super League team...
Wigan face a sudden-death semi-final – nervous, excited, confident?
Alex Graham: To produce another good performance against Huddersfield following a really tough and sapping game against our competition and locals St Helens really fills me with confidence. It suggests we’re hitting form at the right time.
If we’re being honest, form throughout the year to date suggests Wigan and St Helens should deservedly be the Grand Finalists and taking into account the reaction, or should I say whinging, from Saints coach Khristian Woolf from two weeks ago it seems they were rattled from the physicality of the Wigan forwards, therefore I’d suggest we’re favourites to lift the trophy.
If there are nerves and concerns it would surround the week off and fact it’s sudden death. We’ve seen regularly throughout playoff history that momentum is key and those with the week off can take 40 minutes or so to get into the game.
With no second chance we can’t afford to start rusty so the next two weeks is a massive test for Adrian Lam and the coaching team to ensure we’re fully prepared.
Steve Ford: I’m always nervous and excited but never overly confident when we play a semi-final.
For this particular one I’m more excited than usual because we appear to have hit form at the right time so fingers crossed this will continue next week.
In French we have a true match winner and I’m hopeful that he will deliver again like he did against Saints a couple of weeks ago.
The nerves are more related to that we may have another lapse like we had against Leeds in the Challenge Cup semi-final or woeful performances like we had versus Hull KR and Salford.
Darren Wrudd: It has been a long time coming, but I actually feel confident that if we continue to play with the spirit we have recently, no one can beat us in the next two games. Nervous excitement is abound but that’s a good thing and I bet the feeling at the club is riding high. Combinations are beginning to look really solid and Lam has the lads playing the game with heads up and switched on. So yes, this year is special already, but could get even better.
Jon Lyon: Excited and confident. Defensively we seem to have moved up a gear in the last couple of games.
We seem quicker off the line and hungrier chasing kicks and hunting in groups. Whoever we play I feel confident we can win.
Hastings also seems to be dominating games and looks to have hit his best form at the right time.
I’m sure it will also be good for the players to finally be back at the DW, even without the fans there.
With all the good news around the club at the moment regarding recruitment it’s hard not to feel positive.
Do you want Adrian Lam to stay on as coach?
Alex Graham: It’s amazing the difference two games can make. Had we lost to St Helens it would have been Lam’s sixth derby loss in a row without success, and it was likely we would have slipped down to third if not worse with a tough run-in to reach the Grand Final.
There would have been question-marks over inconsistencies through out the year and the fact it’s looking like being the fourth failure in four attempts to reach a final, let alone win a trophy, in four attempts.
However, after two wins against Saints and Huddersfield Lam was lifting a League Leaders Shield above his head with a medal around his neck and was rewarded with semi final and week off.
It just goes to show the fine margins and/or fickleness within professional sport. It’s quite easy to forget that he’s just year two into his head coaching career so he’s bound to have early challenges. The League Leaders success is a good sign that he’s got the potential to overcome those challenges, so rewarding him with a new one year contract is the right decision at this point.
But, if there’s no Grand Final win this year, I’d expect next year will be hit or bust regardless of how early he may be on his personal journey.
Steve Ford: I’m not particularly keen on Lam but I am certain that he will be given a contract extension irrespective if we win or lose in the playoffs.
Darren Wrudd: I would be ecstatic if we heard that Lam was to stay in 2021. He has taken a group of lads and moulded them into an efficient team who play an exciting brand of rugby league football. That is what Ian Lenagan suggested he wanted to do a couple of years ago as he didn’t like the tag we had attached to our style as boringly efficient. Wearing his heart on his sleeve, Lam is so much a part of this club and is so invested in our success.
We would be lucky indeed if we could hold on to such a high quality coach, I would sign him up for another three if he would go for it.
Jon Lyon: Absolutely I do. I’ve been a huge advocate all along. Lammy has played with a tough hand ever since he signed on. The Edwards debacle ruined the first half of last year but we came back strong and fell just short.
This year we topped the league before Covid-19 hit, and topped it at the end of the abridged season, he can’t do more than that.
The Leeds cup game was a disappointment, but Leeds played well above themselves that day, it was just one of those days.
I don’t know how long Lammy wants to stay but if it’s longer than a year then give him a longer deal. It must be hard not knowing where you’ll be at the end of the year. Some stability would help if that’s what he wants.
After Jackson Hastings followed John Bateman, Bevan Fench and jai field in signing deals... have Wigan’s plans for 2021 exceeded expectations when Covid-19 hit?
Alex Graham: It’s a strong, positive message from the club to show how confident they are with regards to the future of the sport.
It’s been a tough year for everybody and the fact the club are making financial efforts and sacrifices to ensure a strong line-up and star flooded squad for next year really gives fans and investors hope. The commitment to rebrand and the backing required to make that a success also shows genuine ambition and will to succeed. I just hope we’re back in stadiums to enjoy watching the new and returning recruits.
It’s good to see Hastings re-sign following an initial shaky start to his Wigan career. Personally I didn’t think his career at Wigan started off too well, with his Salford fairytail and Man of Steel success I didn’t give Wigan the respect he should of by failing even to acknowledge his new club months after he signed. There was also the reports of him questioning his contract before his debut and of course the Fox League interview by putting himself in the window for an NRL contract despite only playing a handful of games for Wigan. However, he really seems to have settled down to life at Wigan which has a completely different environment and culture to Salford. Though there might be stubbornness within his character, it’s the type of strong willingness we witnessed from players like Shaun Edwards and Gregory, which can lead to immense success!
Steve Ford: Very much so. In the current climate I think that our recent signings have been fantastic and I fully expect Hastings and Leuluai to sign contract extensions in next week or so.
Full credit to Ian Lenagan and Kris Radlinski in securing all of the recent deals.
Darren Wrudd: This year is a tough one for sure and at the beginning I suggested writing the season off in your diaries as we could easily see what Covid was doing to our society and way of life. Sport seemed inconsequential and the way the clubs have coped is worthy of great note. To build so much advancement into a season like this is simply magnificent.
How on earth Kris Radlinski can keep all the facets of the club’s direction in the air at once and come down with a forward thinking plan the envy of every club in the league. So yes, you can probably tell that once more the club has far exceeded expectations and next year looks to be exciting to say the very least.
Jon Lyon: With Hastings also committing to the club I think recruitment has far exceeded any fans hopes. I’m genuinely wondering how we’re affording all these players. The possible combinations in the backs is mouthwatering and we have pace in abundance all over the park, whether Gildart stays or not, and I hope he does.
With Field signing in I was expecting one of French or Hastings to leave. My only worry now, especially if Tommy re-signs, is if Harry Smith will get enough game time. I would loan him out for a year if he’s not going to play much, he’s far too good not to be playing first grade somewhere.
We seem to be well stocked all over the park now, so when inevitable injuries hit we have quality options in all positions. Keeping everyone happy will be a tough job but competition for places only breeds better performances from all.
And finally, elaborating on last week’s question: Now we know the criteria for the 12th Super League club, rank in order your top three preferences...
Alex Graham: My first choice would be London Broncos. Losing Toronto is a losing an opportunity for expansion, and London are a good, safe expansion option taking into consideration the current climate. It’s quite clear that London produces rugby league players, with Clubb, Sarginson and Pearce-Paul being recent Wigan beneficiaries in the recent years. Commercially I also think it’s essential to have a rugby league presence in the capital.
My second choice is Toulouse, who would be my first choice had we not be in the current pandemic and be suffering with persistent overseas travel restrictions. Adding another French club only enhances the game in France and will encourage more Frenchmen to play the sport.
There’s also the improved stance of winning French television contracts with two Super League participants from the country.
My third choice would be York. Ideally I’d prefer York to take the place of a heartland club in time. Although I don’t think they’re quite ready to commit to Super League status they’re a large, commercially viable city with good backing and facilities.
I know both Leigh and Featherstone will have strong bids, but other than well invested squads I don’t know how a low poplulated borough of Wigan and a 15,000 populated Yorkshire village would enhance Super League.
Any decision to include these limited clubs would offer nothing but to maintain the M62 heartland status of the sport. The competiton must be built strategically with commercial opportunities and growth taken into consideration.
Steve Ford: Bradford, Leigh, Halifax.
Darren Wrudd: The three clubs that I would like to see in the mix for the 12th spot are Featherstone, Leigh and if their finances are finally sorted out, Bradford. I feel that although they finished 5th in 2019, Featherstone made it to the final to be pipped by Toronto, so they deserve the chance overall. But if the commercial aspect does not fit the RFL’s strange sense of application then Leigh and Bradford are both hot contenders. Both having had their shot in the top tier, they know what its about and bring good value to the game as a whole. Noted by their absence in my list is of course Toulouse. No doubt the board will have extra holidays on their mind and wonder if bringing another French side into the league will help them develop a bigger footprint over there. But that to me would just remove the ability of fans to watch their team every week.
That Lord Caine is to oversee the discussions means little if the whole of the decision is with the RFL and Super League Europe anyway. They will do as they please as they always do, which sends shivers down my spine.
Jon Lyon: My three choices from the list of clubs available would be London, Toulouse and York, in that order. I think London still offer something if we are to expand the game from its traditional heartland and they and the Toulouse squad are more likely to be able to compete next year. Whichever club comes up is up against it money and recruitment wise and it’s going to be a tough year but London did well last time and Danny Ward proved himself an excellent coach.