The 18th man column: Faith in youth and '˜project players' paid off
Our 18th man columnist reflect on Saturday's stunning Grand Final success...
The clubs best win in 30 years was how coach Shaun Wane declared this Grand Final victory.
I actually agree with him but not necessarily for the title being lifted after a testing season with injuries. The reason I’d say is because Saturday’s success is vindication for the whole Wigan club for the policy they adopted of backing youth and signing “project players” so to speak. H
ad Saturday not gone the way we wanted it would have been a hard sell to supporters to sign up for this project again, after three years with no trophies, but all that faith came to massive fruition at Old Trafford.
Two players in particular highlight that for me.
Anthony Gelling, dropped last year ahead of Old Trafford for a 19-year-old who at the time had played three matches. That was quite a statement last year but they stuck with him still and he repaid that faith with an excellent end to this campaign.
Another player is George Williams. Patiently backed every week over two years. Even though he played test rugby last autumn, he was still mightily raw in certain aspects and Wigan could easily have gone down the Warrington route of signing from down under but that faith again was rewarded on Saturday.
I mean compare that to Warrington’s “faith” in Declan Patton. He is not much younger than Williams, but had only played three times for them this season before Sandow got injured in September and realistically had that not happened he wouldn’t have been playing. T
he Wigan club and Shaun Wane deserve a hell of a lot of credit for that and it’s more than just Gelling and Williams that have rewarded the faith.
Yes, a lot of fans fretted in July and August when things were looking bleak, including me, especially after that damn Widnes match, but Wane and his players can now enjoy their day in the sun. I did actually predict though before that Widnes debacle that we’d reach the grand final but for me in saying the season had been awful at that point was more in fear that we’d just roll along until the semi-finals which is what the Widnes match seemed to hint towards.
In the end that didn’t happen. We sparked up and played great and I’d argue the title was actually won in that last 20 minutes in September when we somehow came back at Warrington with 12 men. It forced Warrington to have to fight an extra game for league leaders and that extra gas used up may well have been useful in the final. I think that was our “Wide to West” or Leeds Ryan Hall try last year. Had those two moments not occurred I doubt Saints in 2000 or Leeds last year would have gone on to be champions and arguably Wigan’s history may have been different without that comeback.
I think the 2016 season at Wigan Warriors will be long remembered for many reasons.
The last year that we got to see Josh Charnley, Dan Sarginson and who knows who else pull on the cherry and white jersey in anger, or the horrendous run of injuries that would have seen many a team relegated with such a decimated squad, or perhaps even the wonderful spoof videos from ‘Man of the people’ Anthony Gelling, (my favourite being the Ryan Sutton one).
Whatever history looks back on, one thing that we won’t forget is the determination, desire and sheer grit that we have seen instilled in this group by one Shaun Wane. We have had some slip ups this season and every time there has been a plethora of demands for action and changes in staff, even having got to the semi-final of the Challenge Cup, finished second overall and got to a Grand Final. I heard of demands and ultimatums of win or else! Just what are these people thinking?
If any one man deserves the plaudits for this year’s success, it is our coach. He is a modest man who always redirects praise toward the back room staff and players, leaving no room for doubt that he just steers the ship but once you look beyond the match day experience and team selection, you begin to see the man that lives, breathes and sleeps Wigan Warriors.
I thought that I put in the hours at work until I heard about this man’s work load and I would like to say a huge thank you to Mr Wane for his dedication and graft which ultimately brought us home as Champions. For the squad, I would like to thank each and every one of you for a thrilling ride which I have enjoyed immensely and which has left me needing an off season to recover my emotions from all the ups and downs.
I think that finally Dan Sarginson found his spot in the full back role whilst Willie Isa made just about every position his own as he was called to do so. But I cannot imagine next year’s team sheet yet as it will not have Josh Charnley on it.
A lovable character, Josh has been taken to the hearts of many Wigan fans and I for one will miss him greatly. He has taken a brave step out of his comfort zone and I wish him the very best of luck in his quest. Finally I suppose for 2016, I can relax and look back on another successful year in rugby league as we are crowned Super League Champions once more. Thank you to everyone for their efforts, thank you all for reading and I look forward to 2017 as the Sky TV team once more refer to the Champions, each time they speak of Wigan.
“They’ve only gone and done it.”
The Warriors ended two years of Grand Final agony with a resilient display at Old Trafford in a game that summed up their season. I think the self-titled “Man of the people” Anthony Gelling summed up the mood of this Wigan squad perfectly before the game when he tweeted: “I’m either walking off with a ring, or being carried off with a toe tag.” The spirit and desire and never say die attitude of this Wigan squad is something which has shone all season as injuries and suspensions threatened to derail the campaign.
The game itself was one for the purists, Matty Smith kicking Wigan into an early lead, before Declan Patton dropped his shoulder and repelled the Warriors defence mid-way through the first half to give the Wolves a 6-2 lead which stood for the remainder of the half. Both sides were guilty of errors and missed opportunities.
Wigan have of course been here before, trailing into the second half, not least against Warrington in the epic 2013 Grand Final, and the Super 8s fixture just a few weeks ago and as the game wore on you could see the anxiety levels grow. Then with 53 minutes on the clock came the turning point of the game. Sandow had been introduced and forced an error from Josh Charnley, the Wolves were pressing and Atkins went close, the ball was played out to the right and swung back left again and this time Atkins was over.
Robert Hicks went to the video ref for confirmation of the try but the attention of four Wigan defenders was enough for Atkins to lose the ball. Warrington had blown the opportunity for 12-2 and within a minute Wigan had rolled up field and Williams sent Farrell through the line and he kept his composure to send Gildart over to level the scores.
With a quarter of the match to go Wigan hit the front, more pressure from the Warriors forced a knock on in the Wolves 20, and in the resulting set, how brilliant was it to see the departing heroes combine for the winning score. Dan Sarginson showed quick thinking and great ability to nudge the ball behind the Wolves defence, the bounce was unkind and Josh Charnley with the narrow in goal at Old Trafford fast approaching managed to twist and contort to get the ball down.
Matty Smith settled the nerves with just over five minutes left with a penalty but even then the Wolves pressed, desperate to get back into the Grand Final but the Warriors heroic defence held firm.
Wigan, their coach and players have faced a lot of criticism this season, a lot of it from their own supporters for the style of play, but the last few weeks have seen a marked improvement and they came good when it mattered. That may say more about the current structure than it does about Wigan but for now the Warriors can be extremely proud of their exploits this season and enjoy a well-earned break.
The Theatre of Dreams. How aptly-named because to some of these kids at the start of the season, that’s what it was a dream.
But oh boy how this Wigan team have stood up to all the adversity and knockers all year. To finish a season as Super League Champions is unbelievable. From day one of the season we were under the cosh with injuries. But under Waney’s rule there are no excuses or complaints, you go with what you have.
We got over the line with just 18 fit players out of a squad of 35. Ian Lenagan, Shaun Wane, Kris Radlinski and all the support staff must be delighted and rightly so. If there was one thing that stood out in the game it was the will, desire, passion, faith but most of all belief in each other. That is what won us this trophy and set up a World Club Challenge clash with Cronulla. Both sides took gambles on selection. Wires with Sandow and Wigan with Lockers. But they are players that can win you games Lockers’ presence alone was worth it.
It was great to see servants like Sarginson, Charnley (both inset) and Smith get the rewards their loyalty has shown. But for me the win was more deserving to Shaun Wane for the way he has assembled a team of players that never give up. Waney took on the pressure that goes with coaching the greatest club in rugby league. He never once changed his belief or desire of where he wanted his hometown club to be. He never complained and just went with what he had but instilled his belief and aims in those that represented Wigan. That togetherness paid off and I have no doubt in the current set-up the Super League trophy is the first of many.