The 18th Man Column: Hopefully new deals send out a message
Our 18th Man Panel address this week's Warriors questions
Wigan have played every team once – which side has impressed you the most?
Sean Lawless: I think St Helens have impressed everyone so far and rightly so. However, to be a little different the side that has impressed me the most and I think have made the biggest improvement since Wigan played them first is Salford. I am really looking forward to the game against them next week. They are looking like a steady top eight side, an achievement which shouldn’t be underestimated with the loss of so many players and the Doctor. Ian Watson looks to be doing a great job.
Jon Lyon: The only side to really impress so far this season has to be, I can hardly bring myself to say it, St Helens. Of our two defeats so far I thought Warrington were fortunate to play us when they did, with Wigan having only just returned from Australia. The St Helens match was an excellent game which could have gone either way, but they just sneaked it, which is always a good sign for teams. Danny Richardson looks an excellent prospect in the halves, Mark Percival is killing it and Amor, Thompson and, until he was injured, Walmsley are doing an outstanding job. I still think we’ll beat them when it really matters though.
Darren Wrudd: It would be easy to point out Saints as a team who beat us soundly but I was really impressed with Leeds in defeat. Only one point separated the sides but I thought Leeds showed themselves to be the best drilled defence we have met so far. Difficult to break down and solid in their commitment, I would be astonished if they were not involved in the final this year.
David Bailey: You’d think that having lost to Saints and Warrington that it would have to be one of those two sides but really the side that sticks out in my mind has been Leeds. For a team in transition having lost the last of their golden generation, they haven’t crumbled like teams of the past have when undergoing transition (Saints, Wigan and Warrington stand out). Two one-point losses to Wigan and Hull could have left the table with a very different complexion.
New deals for Willie Isa and Romain Navarrete, and improved terms for Liam Marshall and Tom Davies - right decisions?
Sean Lawless: The new deals keep coming thick and fast for Wigan and rightly so. The players that have signed new deals so far have been deserving on the new contracts. I would like to see this season act as a lesson for the hierarchy of the club to avoid the need to renew so many contracts again. With so many question marks still over the future of a number of players, it would be nice to see it become a rarity for players of such importance enter the final year of their contracts before negotiations and new contracts are signed.
Jon Lyon: Definitely all right decisions. Tying Marshall and Davies down long term ensures we will have quality wingers for the next few years even if Burgess decides he wants to try the NRL again and, heaven forbid, Dom Manfredi fails to regain full fitness.
Navarette has shown enough in his few matches he deserves a chance to build on his development and Willie Isa has been nothing short of phenomenal this season. His work rate and aggression in defence has been a huge part of Wigan’s success so far this year.
Darren Wrudd: With Davies and Marshall no-brainers as far as extended deals, I already stated my support for Willie Isa last week, who I think is a bedrock player in the squad. It took some thought over Romain Navarette but I think on balance, he has the right attitude to fit into our squad profile. Obviously struggling to remain away from home in such strange surroundings, many young players like him have gone home under such stress. Romain, however, decided that he wanted to pay that price and return to the club to show his commitment and I admire that in the lad. So overall yes, I think the club has done well to secure these names for the foreseeable future.
David Bailey:I think of the players off contract, these renewals all make perfect sense although it’s the likes of Tomkins, Gildart and Bateman that the fans really want to see signed up. Both Isa and Navarrete look like different players this season and have helped Wigan’s pack look quite formidable.
As for Marshall and Davies, both have fully justified their long extensions. Even without the luckless Manfredi the Warriors have an abundance of talent on the wing and Davies and Marshall have two very different styles but both are effective.
If the Man of Steel was being voted for now, who would be on your three-man shortlist?
Sean Lawless: Ben Barba will ultimately be the favourite and again, rightly so. He has been formidable this season for St Helens but I think the three man shortlist would be; Ben Barba, Sean O’Loughlin and Sam Tomkins. I think the contribution from O’Loughlin and Tomkins have been exceptional so far this year and they will be there or thereabouts when the players come to vote.
A mention to Stefan Ratchford and Danny Richardson also, two players more unlikely to be mentioned but both have been exceptional so far.
Jon Lyon: It’s hard not to be biased towards Wigan, watching our players every week, and with so many playing so well. Burgess, Isa, Farrell, Bateman, Flower, Clubb and Sam Tomkins all deserve a mention but Sean O’Loughlin is playing some of the best rugby of his career and would be in with a shout if it was up to me.
There haven’t been too many stand out players across the Super League. Ben Barba’s stats of 12 tries and 14 try assists are exceptional. Luke Thompson and Mark Percival have also been on top form. Richie Myler has done far better than I expected at Leeds, shouldering the responsibility well after the departure of McGuire and Burrow. Bill Tupou has been playing well for an inconsistent Wakefield. Jake Connor has looked exciting for Hull, if only he could curb his attitude and mature a little.
At the half way stage I think I would choose O’Loughlin, Barba and Percival for the shortlist, with O’Loughlin in the lead, because I’m completely biased and there’s no way I’m picking a Saints player over our captain!
Darren Wrudd: Difficult really, but mainly as I can’t name three Wigan players. I can’t help but pick Jamie Jones Buchannan who having just racked up 400 games is showing the way at Leeds. Whilst just over the hill one cannot ignore the Saints full-back Ben Barba. I am sick of the Sky pundits naming him as a possible Man of Steel since the very first game, but he is just class. My first choice so far though would have to be our own captain Sean O’Loughlin. It has been a long time since I have seen a player command a squad like he does, by his own example. A giant of a player in physique and ability, Sean is everything I would ask for in a truly professional rugby league player of the highest class.
David Bailey: I think the one name on most lips is Ben Barba, Saints have, well they haven’t swept all before them but Barba has been influential in most things they have done. If Saints are to contend for silverware they really need to keep him fit. I am struggling to think of players around other clubs that are standing out but the one player that I have seen who has impressed me is Jese Sene-Lefao. He is just an uncompromising forward who lifts the team around him and the fans. Finally with my Cherry and White glasses on, Sean O’Loughlin continues to prove his worth week in week out, and is probably more critical to Wigan’s chances of success than Barba is to Saints. I don’t know how Wigan will replace him when he finally hangs his boots up.