The 18th Man Column: 'George Burgess surprised me... for the wrong reasons'

Our 18th Man columnists give their thoughts on the opening round, Adrian Lam's team selection and Shaun Wane's England appointment...

Wednesday, 5th February 2020, 10:17 am
Updated Wednesday, 5th February 2020, 10:20 am
George Burgess made his Wigan debut last Thursday

Did anything surprise you from the opening round?

Jeanette Lusher: With regards to Warriors, it maybe shouldn’t have surprised me but Morgan Smithies topping the tackle count having only played for 57 minutes is huge.

He is such an astounding young man and such a prodigious player.

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Sadly, George Burgess was a surprise for the wrong reasons – as he didn’t look fit and was weak in defence.

On the wider front, Hull put in a very impressive performance against Leeds and appear to have the bodies to do the business this season. However, Saints look the real deal and will certainly set the benchmark high.

Darren Wrudd: I bet many expected Toronto to put up a much better fight than they showed , with all the hype and publicity surrounding their big-money players.

But Castleford managed to clean them out in good style. As for our performance, with the loss of Sam Powell and George Burgess relatively early on in the game, we stood up well and regrouped to press home the win. I expected a little more polish to be honest with our performance, but a win is a win and we will get better.

Robert Kenyon: I was expecting a lot more from George Burgess, but he was carrying an injury. Even so, he probably should have played a reserve game after being out for so long.

I was surprised by Salford just rolling over against Saints – it’s a case of emperor’s new clothes with Saints.

I don’t think they’re that good and the scoreline flattered them. On the home front, I was pleasantly surprised by some of our players flying out of the blocks.

Liam Marshall is firing on all cylinders and, if he carries on, there’ll be an international call-up.

Jake Bibby looks a solid signing, Jackson Hastings is pure class, and Smithies, Partington, Byrne and Havard look very dangerous.

I was even surprised with Tony Clubb, who seems to be getting through more work and looks fitter this season.

Jon Lyon: The biggest surprise was Huddersfield’s convincing win in Perpignan.

I don’t expect Catalans to win any trophies, and I know they are short on backs, but with Maloney, Micky Mac, Casty and the Tomkins brothers, I expected a lot more from what looked aneasy start.

It could be a long season for the French side if they don’t improve soon.

The same could be said for Leeds, who looked pretty woeful against an impressive Hull team.

Finally, the biggest surprise was how poor the new ‘Inside Super League’ programme was.

I don’t like the black and white background, and the idea of the presenters not looking into the camera seems bizarre. We need all the exposure we can get, but this seems very slap dash.

Hopefully they will take the plentiful criticism on board and improve quickly.

Alex Graham: With a strong ex-Wigan contingent and former NRL stars such as James Maloney and David Mead, I was surprised Catalans started with such a big loss.

As a pro-expansionist and someone desperate to see Catalans do well, it’s disappointing to see the Dragons consistently come up short of being strong playoff contenders year after year.

Looking at the average age and accomplishments of the imports, has the South of France become a retirement holiday? They seriously need to review the culture within the club and decide if Steve McNamara is the man to lead it.

Would you make any changes to the Wigan line-up for the trip to Castleford?

Jeanette Lusher: Changes are inevitable due to the loss of Sam Powell. To cover this, I would like to have Hastings and French as the half-back pairing with Leuluai at hooker.

Hardaker would be my full back and Hankinson brought in to cover centre.

My starting props would be Bullock and Partington, with Clubb and Byrne yet again on the bench.

My only other change would be Borough as my fourth sub.

Darren Wrudd: Our six and seven need to be our six and seven. French and Hastings looked devastating at times, and yet swapping and changing the dynamics around as French moves from full back to half is just wrong.

Stay with them please, Mr Lam – play around with the hooker and loose forward if you must, but we need a pairing who get to know one another’s game and learn to complement each other. Hardaker at full back and stay there, too – that’s where he shines.

Robert Kenyon: I’d bring in Mitch Clark for George Burgess, despite Joe Bullock and Ben Kilner playing well in the pre-season friendlies and reserves game against Widnes.

All the rigmarole Castleford put Clark through last year will provide extra motivation.

I’d also bring in Jake Shorrocks to play in the halves and Leuluai to 9.

Though Harry Smith is a very good player, Shorrocks has a little bit more experience, and has been playing very well in the friendlies and reserves game.

I’d give Smith and Borough a bit more time in the reserves to get up to speed and battle-hardened before playing Super League.

Jon Lyon: Presumably Sam Powell will be missing after Chris Hill tried to decapitate him, so I would move Tommy to hooker, French to half back, Zak to full back and bring in Hankinson to centre.

Burgess looks like he might be out for a while and should be – there’s no point playing him half-fit, so I would put Bullock straight into the team as he looked good when he came on against Leeds in the pre-season friendly.

The rest of the team played reasonably well, and thankfully Smithies has been cleared of the eye-gouge charge, so more of the same from our young lads up front. We need some stability now to let the partnerships form, and for everyone to get used to Hastings’ style of play. Castleford will prove very tough opposition, but they have a weakened pack and we should be able to outmuscle them over 80 minutes.

Alex Graham: If fit again, I’d expect Flower to replace the injured George Burgess and, although Ethan Havard looks like another one with huge potential for the future, I’d replace him this week with Joe Bullock for the bench.

The Jungle is probably the most hostile ground in the competition, with the locals having an unhealthy hatred towards Wigan, so the thickest skin possible is always an advantage.

That said, with Sam Powell missing with concussion, I’d start Harry Smith in halves with Jackson Hastings and start Leuluai at hooker.

He debuted well last year and was brilliant in the pre-season fixtures – he’s more than ready.

Shaun Wane is the new England coach – right call?

Jeanette Lusher: It is the right call, as he is ultra-passionate about the sport and his country. Supporters of every club want to see players wear the national shirt with pride and passion – this is a given with Shaun in charge.

He also has the right coaching credentials – his industriousness and ability to get the best out of a player, as well as his attention to detail, thoroughness and dedication.

Shaun will eat, drink and sleep the national cause. He will make each chosen player feel valued – he will be their protector and he will boost their confidence and self-belief.

He will work to the nth degree to develop strategies and systems to beat the opposition.

Shaun will relish the challenge of bringing home the ashes later this year and will move heaven and earth to make England the world champions in 2021.

Darren Wrudd: The choice of an England coach will always split opinion, but I cannot see anyone having an issue with Wane.

The reality is we need a full-time coach who has a measure of the game, the respect of players and officials, and can understand what it means to wear our shirt.

A foreigner from any other background should never be entertained, and Bennett has been a mistake from beginning to end.

Wane has an intimate understanding of the technicalities of rugby league while also being able to tap into the emotional and psychological reaches of the players’ minds to get the very best from them.

He will choose players in form rather than by reputation, and we may just have a chance of competing on the big stage.

So yes, I think this is the correct decision – and I wish him and his staff the very best of luck and success.

Robert Kenyon: Definitely, without a shadow of a doubt. Wayne Bennett is a living legend, but I thought last year his standards slipped with the squad he picked. Too many halfbacks and not enough three-quarters, picking out-of-form players and picking the worst 9s team possible too.

Shaun Wane is the best man for the job – he’s a proven winner and can motivate his players to win big games.

It’s credit to Waney there’s Saints and Warrington fans pleased with the appointment – that’s very telling of how he’s thought of.

Jon Lyon: Most definitely. Shaun knows how to inspire players, get them working for each other and is exactly what England needs after the farcical GB tour.

No-one can doubt Bennett’s credentials but it just hasn’t worked. Wane knows the players and knows how rally them.

Look at how many times Wigan were trailing at half time under his leadership, only to come back from the dead after his half time talk – or how many times they were riddled with injuries, and still won when they had no right to. Even Saints fans are saying it’s the right call, so it must be!

Alex Graham: The RFL have couldn’t have picked anybody better for the England role – and I’ve no doubt Waney will be every bit as passionate and proud coaching his country as he was coaching his home town. He’ll be taking over from Wayne Bennett, whose ego will no doubt be bruised – but as a coach whose methods are personal and culture-based, it proved too much of a challenge being based on the other side of the world and having to fit the job around being a full-time NRL coach.

The Great Britain tour should have been treated as the pinnacle of international rugby league, but instead seemed to get in the way of Bennett’s England World Cup preparation and ultimately cost him and Kevin Sinfield their jobs. This mindset would be unthinkable under Shaun Wane’s reign.