The 18th man column: '˜Wigan have a great chance to win back-to-back titles'
Our 18th man columnists look to tonight's clash at Leigh, and reflect on last Saturday's loss at Hull FC...
Momentum is key in sport and, at the moment, Wigan don’t have that. They are struggling for confidence and form.
However, a change in momentum could change their season into a great one, bearing in mind we have already won the World Club Challenge.
I believe, despite the current form, this is Wigan’s best opportunity to win back to back Super Leagues – bear with me…I think Wigan’s next four games will shape their season.
A derby against Leigh, at the LSV – a ground that hasn’t been too kind to Wigan – Warrington in the Challenge Cup, Huddersfield away in Super League and then Widnes at home.
Four wins, would see Wigan into the semi-final of the Challenge Cup, and back up to challenging for the a place in the top four of Super League.
These games are crucial as the opportunity is there for Wigan to make up lost ground due to teams above them playing each other.
For example Wakefield play Leeds, Castleford play Leeds and Hull, while Hull also play Wakefield and Salford.
Points will be dropped and Wigan must ensure they take full advantage of this next month. Waste this opportunity and the gap may be too big to recover.
The unusual nature of the season creates a great opportunity for Wigan to actually win the Super League back-to-back for the first time.
That may seem a million miles away at the moment and may seem like wishful thinking. However, if Wigan finish in the top four, the chances are that two of the other teams in the top four will never have played in an elimination play-off semi final before, say Castleford and Salford.
At the start of the season, would you have accepted a WCC win and the opportunity to get to another Grand Final by playing a semi-final away at Salford? That’s the opportunity that Wigan could create for themselves. Wigan’s experience at that time of the year could pay dividends, but getting that opportunity is the first challenge. Returning players over the next month should create confidence amongst the current players and fans alike. Now is the time to really get behind the team, as more silverware is not a million miles away.
Another week rolls by and another defeat.
Sure, we can still look at our list of injured players and feel sorry for ourselves. Eight first-choice players sat on the sidelines doesn’t make good reading. Hull had plenty of players missing this week, too, and also found themselves in a poor run of form, but they fought their way to a very good win.
With the form of Marshall, Davies and Burgess in attack, it doesn’t feel like Manfredi, Gildart and Gelling are being missed too much from our offence. But defensively we have been all over the place for some weeks now.
You can forgive young players like Worthington and Forsyth the odd misread or simply being not strong enough yet to make every tackle.
What can’t be accepted is the arm-grabbing from the likes of Tautai and Farrell, and the bizarre technique of Lewis Tierney sliding into tryscorers’ feet-first repeatedly.
For a team so proud of its defensive structures, Wigan seem to be all over the place at the moment.
Naturally, changing the team every week for new injuries or the odd player coming back doesn’t help. It’s hard to build consistency when we can’t put out the same defensive unit for two games in a row, and Farrell, Powell and O’Loughlin will all be missing from the Leigh match on Thursday. Tiredness may also be creeping into some of the squad.
Many of the experienced players haven’t been able to be rested due to the lack of fit squad members to take their place, and the younger players have been forced into much more game time than could have been expected, at a much faster and more physical pace than they are used to.
Conceding 234 points in our last seven league games is unheard of, though, for a club with a defensively-minded coach such as Shaun Wane and, injuries or not, it’s now down to the players to fix it.
Wane isn’t on the pitch missing tackles, and calls for his head from some quarters are way off the mark.
I’m not sure what more people expect of him. How do fans expect consistency in attack when our backline changes week to week? Gildart back this week, Forsyth missing last week, our attacking play has been pretty decent considering all the changes.
Our biggest problem is playing in patches.
All too often we have found ourselves 20 points or so up or down and then made a comeback, often in vain, or let a lead slip. Playing for the full 80 minutes needs to be the focus but, if its fatigue that’s preventing this then, there’s not much we can do until we have more players to rotate.
Anyone who has tagged along and read my ramblings over the last 15 years will of course know that, where my rugby league team is concerned, I try to remain positive.
Although I may criticise, the accompanying encouragement reflects my passion for this club.
However, the lack of organisational input from any of our senior players in the first half last week was not what I have come to expect from any Wigan Warriors squad.
I know Sean O’Loughlin was a late withdrawal and Tommy Leuluai took a knock but, let’s be honest, with more injuries than a senior gym class after circuit training, we are used to upsets and reorganising our structure.
We looked totally lost and outclassed for the first 40 minutes and it was very hard to watch. We went through a period like this last year, too, with 13 players running their heart out but each trying to solve the problem alone, so just adding to it instead.
Flat attacking line outs meant no momentum, slow play-the-balls meant no chance of beating the onrushing defenders, our defenders out of place or not squaring up to the attacking players all made Hull look good, but no one grabbing the reins to sort it out meant it was a very difficult first half.
I know the coach is tied somewhat when commenting about the penalty count, which at one point was 10-nil in Hull’s favour but, while perhaps three of those were warranted, seven consisted of a Hull player flailing about like a beached whale after we had cleared the tackle, just so Phil Bentham could exercise the pea in his whistle. A disgraceful quality of refereeing at this level of sport, but do we have any decent officials left at the moment?
Well I am afraid the time has come to sort this out.
Only the players can do this, but the coaching staff need to make sure they have the tools to make it happen.
Keep it simple and do the little things well. We have high quality across the park, even with the injuries we currently have. We need to stop all this panic play and regain some decent structure or we will for sure be looking at the middle eights, and the prospect of a million pound game come the end of the season.
Well, it’s been a testing few months for us Wigan fans.
I’ll admit, I’ve been rather negative in recent weeks, following the defeats, and used that negativity on the players.
However, this week I saw the light, and I’m going to start this little contribution with some breaking news.
Wigan Warriors will win both the Challenge Cup and Grand Final this season. No, I’m not suffering from some sort of head knock, and I’m not on the end of a drinking binge.
I honestly still believe in this squad and, more importantly, the squad that is to be in the next few weeks.
With the likes of Oliver Gildart, Anthony Gelling, John Bateman and Sam Tomkins set to return to the squad, it’s going to improve us dramatically. Joe Burgess will be allowed to move back into his natural position on the wing, with what I think will be the unfortunate dropping of Tom Davies.
Our squad is on the rise and, while results are not there, I think us fans need to stay positive and stick with the team. They’re doing their best in what’s been a very tough period.
Last week against Hull FC was poor, no question. I honestly thought we had the better side out there, especially on the interchanges. However, we seemed so tired, and at a loss for ideas, with no leader on the field.
When the team news was announced for tonight’s game with Leigh, it was a case of déjà vu for Wigan, as one returns, in Gildart, but three miss out in Sean O’Loughlin, Sam Powell and Liam Farrell. I think we still have a strong enough squad to go, beat Leigh and get the vital two points.
It won’t be easy but, if we can withstand the opening 20 minutes or so, we should be okay.
One thing we’re really struggling with this season is goal kicking.
We’re currently sat bottom of the team goal kicking rates, with just 58.9 per cent this season.
That is clearly not good enough, and it’s cost us a few points already. We have six cup finals on the horizon, and that’s not including the Challenge Cup quarter-final a week on Saturday against Warrington.
However, our season starts tonight, against Leigh.
We need to forget everything that’s gone on so far, and make the rest of the season count for something.
After the Hull game a few things stuck out as to the reason behind our current poor form – and it’s not just injuries.
The first telling issue is our lack of leadership when Sean O’Loughlin isn’t playing. It’s something that has been an issue for years, but this needs addressing and players need to step up to the plate as Lockers isn’t going to be around forever unfortunately.
The second one is our discipline – and this coincides with the lack of leadership.
Whether we are sloppy in defence or poor reads in defence it’s hurting us on the scoreboard especially out wide. Our 3/4 really need to get smarter at defensive reads, they can tackle but keep taking the wrong options.
The third one is our go forward from our pack. Against Hull only Tautai stood out with his go forward, with the odd run from Frank Paul and Sutton in the second half. We need to start winning to collision more, our back rowers especially.
We have six games left until the super 8s split, there is a very real danger that, if we don’t get our act together we could, for the first time, end up in the middle 8s fighting relegation.
Now that would be embarrassing for us being current world champions.