The 18th Man Column: Expect fireworks as England face New Zealand

Wigan Warriors fans answer this week's rugby league questions.

Thursday, 25th October 2018, 2:55 pm
Updated Thursday, 25th October 2018, 3:58 pm
Englands youngest member of the squad, Oliver Gildart, in training with his team-mates. SWPix

England face New Zealand in a three Test series – are you excited?

Robert Kenyon: I’m looking forward to the game at Anfield, I’ll not be attending though unfortunately as my wife is ready to go into labour with our future Wigan loose forward so I’ve got to be ready to go at a moment’s notice.

I’m looking forward to the series with Shaun Johnson and Jared Warea-Hargreaves being available to play but disappointed Roger Tuavasa Sheck won’t be, neither will Nelson Asofa-

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Solomona and various others who have put their hands up for Tonga and Samoa, especially Jason Taumalolo. We are missing a few also, Gareth Widdop and Sam Burgess most notably but all in all I expect tough opposition, as we always will with New Zealand but I predict a 3-0 win.

Jon Lyon : Not to be blasé about a Test series, but literally anything is welcome to fill the vast void until the new season kicks off again next year. The visit of a quality New Zealand squad should provide three entertaining, hard fought games, all of which could go either way.

While we all hope for plenty of flair on show, it seems vital England win the forward battle to allow the likes of Williams, Connor and Tomkins to work their magic. New Zealand have some huge, aggressive forwards in Marty Tapau, Jared Warea-Hargreaves, Jesse Bromwich and Adam Blair, who will fly out of the blocks looking to dominate us, but our pack has been together for a long time now, and I expect that continuity to be vital in gaining the upper hand.

Both teams have plenty of pace in the backs, and unpredictability with Shaun Johnson and Jake Connor. If England can foster a Wigan-esque defence out wide then we should have enough to win the series.

Sean Lawless: I am looking forward to seeing a Michael Maguire led side, one that I expect to be very different to his first venture in Denver. A side that posses the mercurial talent of Shaun Johnson is going to an exciting side to watch. I expect a lot of three and four man tackles (Maguire’s speciality) and some magic from Johnson!

Darren Wrudd: I Suppose this highlights for me a glaring omission from our sport. As most of the domestic games we watch on TV are broadcast by Sky, there is little or no publicity for the international series. The BBC pay lip service to a small advert or two but consider how union is promoted when a big clash is set to be broadcast on a weekend. We seem to almost stumble our way into an international game or three at the end of each year and not much is made of it which is a real shame. This is the pinnacle of our sport and one of the biggest challenges is to match the antipodeans for skill and desire. I am really looking forward to seeing how we go on and cheering the lads home. Expect fireworks with the big match up of the game James Graham v Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, two of the toughest front rowers in the game worldwide. I think however that the sublime half back partnership of Shaun Johnson and Kodi Nikorima may very well cause us some trouble.

Wayne Bennett has named his 19-man squad. But if it was your choice, what would be your 17 from the available 24-man squad?

Robert Kenyon: Ratchford; McGilvary, Gildart, Percival, Makinson; Williams, Myler; Hill, Clarke, Graham, Whitehead, Bateman, O’Loughlin. Subs: Thompson, T.Burgess, G.Burgess, Connor

Jon Lyon: Sam Tomkins; Jermaine McGillvary, Oliver Gildart, Mark Percival, Tommy Makinson; George Williams, Jake Connor; Chris Hill, Daryl Clark, James Graham, Elliott Whitehead, John Bateman, Sean O’Loughlin. Subs: Tom Burgess, George Burgess, Luke Thompson, Jonny Lomax.

Sean Lawless: If everyone is fit and available, including the Grand Final Players, my side would be: Tomkins; Johnstone, Gildart, Percival, McGillvary; Lomax, Williams; Burgess, Hodgson, Graham, Bateman, Whitehead, O’Loughlin. Subs: Burgess, Hill, Connor, Thompson.

Darren Wrudd: I don’t think that there are many arguments with the 19 names on tomorrow’s team sheet. Perhaps Richie Myler would miss out in my selection and try Jake Connor, the ‘horrible little man’ (as he was branded by his own coach) in the halves. I know coaches have favourites but I think Stefan Ratchford is unbelievably unlucky to miss out for Lomax. If form is what selection is based on, Ratchford is a shoo-in and this I think is a mistake.

Other than that perhaps less of the Burgess clan, who seem very expensive in penalty counts, and perhaps the odd Tony Clubb or Ben Westwood to add some toughness up the middle. I can’t imagine the likes of Tom Davies will be far from a full international debut, but it seems the basis of Bennett’s team is more mature which is a shame when we have such young talent queuing up and on top form.

Andy Gregory is to be inducted into the rugby league Hall of Fame. Do you imagine any of the current Wigan players will ever be included?

Robert Kenyon: I’d imagine Sean O’Loughlin will be inducted because he’s had an illustrious career at one club. There are many good players in our club who could potentially become

Hall of Famers but it all depends on them and what they do with their careers.

If they stay at Wigan and keep winning trophies then they stand a better chance of doing rather than flitting between NRL, other SL clubs and Wigan like the way Sam Tomkins did, who would have been a shoo-in had he spent his career at Wigan.

It’s good see Andy Gregory become a member, he was a very creative halfback and the reason for that was he wasn’t afraid to take risks, if he threw a long ball or forced a pass and it never came off his head wouldn’t drop and he wouldn’t clam up and start playing safety first rugby focusing on set completions.

If he did he wouldn’t have been half the player he was. That is the reason for the state of the current game and why there are no real creative half backs, they’re too scared to take chances.

I once met Andy Gregory in a Wetherspoons in Leicester on a Monday night bizarrely. I was on a training course with work as was he (different work, different courses) and I went over and said hello and talked rugby, next thing I know I’ve bought him and myself enough Guinness to sink a ship and I had one of the worst hangovers ever, was a good night though.

Jon Lyon: Sean O’Loughlin would be the closest, talent wise, to Andy Gregory, but there are other players who would be inducted before Sean I would think, no disrespect intended.

Andy Gregory was a unique player. I started watching Wigan the year before he joined us.

He seems to have looked the same for his whole life, he must have been born looking 50 years old.

A barrel shaped player, he was a nuggety little scrum half who had the deftest hands I’ve ever seen.

He wasn’t blessed with pace but had a gift to see a gap and weight and time a pass perfectly to put a runner through it.

As much as I’ve loved watching the likes of Shaun Edwards, Adrian Lam and Tommy Leuluai, we haven’t had a scrum half as good since Andy Greg.

This honour is well deserved for one of the best English players of all time, and a lovely man to boot.

Sean Lawless: Based on the longevity and success he has had at Wigan, also being England captain, I would imagine there is an argument for Sean O’Loughlin to be a member of the Rugby League Hall of Fame at some stage in the near future.

Sam Tomkins certainly would have been my choice back in 2012, but the following six seasons haven’t taking him on the expected trajectory at club or international level.

Darren Wrudd: After watching Andy Gregory cut teams to pieces and feed players through huge gaps of his own creation for years, running the show alongside Edwards and Hanley whilst not always making the headline, it is right, proper and totally fitting that he is to be inducted into the Rugby Leagues hall of fame.

Although not a giant of a man in his stature, on the field he stood head and shoulders above the whole of the sport in his prime whilst his diminutive size was a real contradiction of just what a huge influence he had on the modern game.

I remember after the players were waved off from the DW Stadium for the 2002 Challenge Cup final, my wife Glenda and I popped down to The Brocket for a bite and Andy did the same with Billy Boston.

So I sent a round of drinks over and just as our food arrived, so did Greg.

He sat and chatted for 10 or 15 minutes by which time the food was stone cold, but I did not mind a bit, even when he rushed back as his had just arrived. A great of the game and proper down to earth chap. My sincere congratulations.

Out of the current crop of players at Wigan, I can only think of one who could emulate his status.

Sean O’Loughlin is a legend of the club and game as a whole. Enjoy watching him for the one or two seasons he has left as one like that does not come around too often.