The 18th Man Column: Who should be the ones we try to keep?
Our 18th Man panel address this week's Warriors topics.
A few players are off-contract (Gildart, Tomkins, Sutton, Navarrete, O’Loughlin and Leuluai) and Bateman has a ‘release clause’. can you prioritise who you really want to keep the most?
Sean Lawless: The re-signing of Liam Marshall feels like the start of the propaganda campaign that Wigan perhaps feel they will have to run when they announce the Tomkins to Catalans deal – but well done to Marshall. For me, Sean O’Loughlin is the priority resigning that Wigan have to secure. They are managing his minutes well at the moment and another year is surely a must, Wigan cannot afford to lose so many leaders at the end of 2018.
Jon Lyon: Bateman has to be the number one priority, if there’s any way we can keep him we should, he’s that good. Promise him the captaincy when Lockers retires, whatever it takes.
Gildart would be next on the list as centre is one area we really have little quality depth in. He has developed into a top class centre over the last couple of years and our attack would be much weaker without his link up play with Farrell, Williams and Burgess.
Of the others, Tomkins seems a done deal, O’loughlin should definitely be given another year, Leuluai should move to the coaching side as we have plenty hooker/half back cover. If Gildart, Sutton and Bateman really want to try their hand in the NRL there’s very little Wigan can do about it though.
Robert Kenyon: I’d prioritise signing Bateman and Gildart, definitely. Lockers can have a rolling contract. Ryan Sutton has allegedly been seeking an NRL contract, it all depends on what sort of money he’s after. I like him, I want to keep him but it depends at what price. We have a few decent props in the academy in Sammy Kibula, Liam Byrne and Nathan Reidy who could fill the void left by Sutton if he did leave. I think Willie Isa has been fantastic for Wigan, he puts a shift in every game so get him signed up. I do think he could do with putting a bit of size on though. Navarrete has done well this season, he is a project who needs more time to develop, sign him up. It depends on whether Leuluai wants to carry on playing for retire, he is far better when he plays hooker than when he plays scrum half. Tommy is a leader in the team so I wouldn’t want Sam to leave, Lockers to retire and Tommy as well. At least another season for Tommy.
With Sam apparently leaving and it being a done deal, there’s nothing we can do there then.
David Bailey: If I had to order the players I’d like to keep on board it would be Bateman, Gildart, Tomkins, Navarette, Isa and Sutton. I have discounted Lockers and Tommy because they both have coaching roles to move into. As it stands though Lockers is the key to Wigan’s success but we are going to have to learn to win without him and I think keeping Bateman at the club long term would be a wise move. So much so I would be happy to see him made a marquee player to allow Sam to move on. Rumours linking Gildart with the NRL are an easier pill to swallow than a move to Saints, but I honestly don’t think he is ready at this stage. I like Navarette and think him being around is good for Escare as well, but feel he may soon find himself behind Hamlin in the pecking order. It does look like there is much to be done off the field at the Warriors to tidy up the playing roster.
Darren Wrudd: I think it’s brilliant that Wigan commit to signing young players like Liam Marshall giving them some stability in their career and a chance to grow with the team. What we have found over the years though, is that no single player is as big as the squad and although I would dearly like to keep hold of the likes of Tomkins, Bateman, Sutton and Gildart, it is inevitable that some will want to try their arm elsewhere. With an overall view though, it would not be good to lose too many players at once as we have in the past and that can certainly impact our chances going forward. We have a good inkling from recent comments that Leuluai and Lockers will play here as long as they can.
Wigan are marketing tomorrow’s game with Castleford as a ‘grudge match’ - is it?
Sean Lawless: The marketing spices the less the cordial relationship between the two sides nicely I think.
Think back to the Castleford team photo at the DW after beating Wigan a few years back, only to be replicated, tongue in cheek by Wigan at Wheldon Road.
The relationship between Wane and Powell though is perhaps the biggest grudge match between the two sides.
Jon Lyon: I feel like when you go public with an idea like this there’s every chance it could backfire.
I understand trying to get the home crowd behind the team, but you can’t fake the rivalry.
We all know Shaun Wane and Daryl Powell have had their differences, and Luke Gale’s cocky attitude can be annoying but you can’t create a real “us and them” vibe like we have with Saints.
I want us to win this one, but there’s no real hatred towards Cas, and I’m sure they’ll twist it around and use it as another reason to try and beat Wigan.
Robert Kenyon: It could be a grudge match from Castleford’s perspective because they hate us, probably something stemming from a decision in the floodlit trophy 50 years ago.
Cas fans like to bear grudges and their recent success has fed their egos and given them delusions of grandeur. So I’d say it is a grudge match, but only for them.
But there is definitely something between the two coaches but I don’t know where it stems from.
Whether it’s from their playing days, after that or maybe a clash of rugby philosophy. Who knows. It will be a cracker of a game, Castleford play good rugby and it will be a great spectacle.
David Bailey: Cas’ v Wigan always seems to have that little bit of needle. From Colin Tyrer having his jaw broken at Wembley, Kelvin Skerrett’s “I corn’t speyk” moment, the “salary cap” scandal when Cas’ were relegated, moving on to Cas’ regularly having their team pic taken when they beat Wigan in a league match with Sweet Caroline belting out on the background. Not to mention the continued denials of a rift between Wane and Powell. There is just something there that gives this game an edge which is usually reserved for local rivalries or rivalries for trophies. But for me this is simply a test for Wigan to show again they are capable of winning when it matters and really putting some pressure on Saints at the top of the table, despite not having the greatest start to the season.
Darren Wrudd: A grudge match, having only shipped 81 points to them in the last two games (April 2017), Darrell Powell being the only Super League coach not to congratulate Shaun Wane on the World Club Challenge, Wigan possibly picking up Zack Hardaker who will certainly go back to haunt them and finally a bunch of fans who’s combined IQ could be close to their squad numbers – haha, no grudge there surely. I hope we can wipe the smirky little smile from Powell’s jowly chops and that the home fans give them all some proper grief to let them know that their flash in the pan season last year was exactly that. Bring it on Yorkshire, hoorah !
We’re approaching the halfway stage before the split for the Super-8s. Do you see any of the current bottom-four - Widnes, Hull KR, Huddersfield and Catalans - breaking into the top-eight?
Sean Lawless: The current bottom four look like they will stay there baring perhaps a late surge from Catalans.
My concern if I supported one of the bottom four would be the form of the Championship sides around the top four positions at the moment.
League One and the Championship are uber-competitive in 2018 and perhaps only a league reform will save one of those current Super League teams currently in the bottom four.
Jon Lyon: The only team in the top eight I would worry about is Salford, if they get a couple of injuries to key players, but it’s hard to see any of the bottom four sides putting a run together and moving up the table.
Widnes are having the shocking run with injuries Wigan had the last two years. Hull KR have a relatively weak squad with having only been promoted last year. Catalans have been woeful so far this season and with Steve McNamara in charge there’s more chance of Wayne Bennett releasing a joke book than there is of the French side turning things around.
Huddersfield are probably the only team who stand a chance of moving into the top eight but Brough’s three match ban for abusing officials won’t help, so I think the bottom four will stay as they are.
Robert Kenyon: I’d say Huddersfield have the better chance depending on their coaching appointment, if their coach gets the best out of them they could rise up the league table, they’re not that far behind 8th places Salford. But the others will be in the middle 8s I reckon.
David Bailey: In a word NO... will that do? Just kidding. Based on games so far this season, I think that Widnes and Hull KR could potentially replace Salford in the top 8 but beyond that I can’t see any other moves. Widnes will probably need to rely on their home advantage on the iPitch and Hull KR have the knowledge of Tim Sheens and some experienced winners on the pitch and around the club (McGuire and Peacock). I don’t think Wakefield will slip lower than 7th and Huddersfield and Catalans both seem intent on finishing bottom. Salford do have the players to move up the table if they manage to get a run together but they are the side most likely to miss out.
Darren Wrudd: I really can’t see any of those teams making the cut. The one I feel for is Widnes. Denis Betts has turned out to be quite a good coach in Super League and not the big I am’ that many of us remember. He has worked hard with the club and his injury list this year is as bad as ours for the last two. With no great news on next year’s structure though, should they be worried about a drop down the order – who knows? Huddersfield had one chance and the mouth of the 5th official, Danny Brough, put paid to that. His three match ban for comments to the touch judge have nailed their season. I am sure he was only trying to help them understand the rules though, he seems such a calm and well balanced sort of chap – don’t you think.