The 18th Man Column: Will Wigan Warriors respond from Cup loss?
Our 18th Man columnists discuss prop selections, Cup defeat and tomorrow's showdown
Warrington tomorrow night. What are you expecting?
Alex Graham: God knows. We’ve been so inconsistent this year it’s difficult to predict how we will play, what the line-up will be and who will be injured or missing for other reasons.
If we have at least two senior props back I’d expect a more competitive performance than we provided at the weekend when Leeds dominated in every department from start to finish.
With the Challenge Cup now out of the way and senior props apparently ‘fully fit’ there’s no excuses why we shouldn’t start playing more consistently and building towards the play-offs.
We sacrificed a derby win for a terrible semi-final performance on Saturday, so if there’s no response to that and we achieve a hat-trick of successive losses we have some serious issues when it comes to playing in big fixtures.
Steve Ford: Potentially a drubbing. Not looking forward to it. I’d love to think that we can expect some changes in attitude and performance but I don’t think that Lam is capable of turning it around.
Sean Lawless: I am expecting a response from Wigan, it is a game in which they have to perform in and win. The lack of big games that have been won under Adrian Lam is now at a critical point and if Wigan are serious about winning the Super League this season, they need to win big games, against big teams, starting Friday.
Darren Wrudd: I simply don’t have a clue what to expect on Friday.
We have served up some strange mix of performances this year and, while it has been a strange Covid-dominated season, that has been the same for everyone and some teams have shown much more consistency than others.
If we are on our game, I don’t care how good Warrington are, we will floor them.
But if we have any doubt as to the ferocity of the challenge to be served up by the Wolves or are not totally committed to the eagerness that our game plan will require, we will be smashed. So really there are so many variations to our game at the moment, so little consistency, that I can’t possibly predict how this will go.
Now the dust has settled, how do you reflect on Wigan’s exit from the Challenge Cup?
Alex Graham: It’s Adrian Lam’s third attempt at a major trophy and his third failure to reach a final let alone win a trophy. He’s had five attempts at winning a derby and lost all five. Whether it’s him, the players or those above who manage the recruitment, he has a terrible record when it comes to winning big fixtures.
Harsh to highlight but it’s a relevant fact.
Despite the fantastic efforts and potential of our young forwards, the natural size and experience from an older seasoned prop is imperative and, just like what happened against Salford in last year’s play-off semi-final, we were dominated in the pack and booted out of another competition.
It’s something both Lam and senior management have to sort out immediately if they’re serious about competing for silverware anytime soon because the lack of availability of Clubb, Flower and Burgess is the main reason why we aren’t making finals.
Steve Ford: I’d like to say that I was surprised by the result and the performance but I wasn’t.
We don’t have a great squad but it should be good enough to at least give Leeds a game. I think that Lam is out of his depth, and the poor decisions in recruiting and retaining inadequate props came home to roost.
I don’t like losing any game but losing and not giving any sort of a performance is unacceptable, particularly after last year’s similar performances against Saints and Salford.
Sean Lawless: The really disappointing thing about the defeat against Leeds, is that we were out-coached and what is even worse, we were out-coached by Richard Agar.
The game was very similar in terms to conditions to the 2013 Cup final against Hull and we had a great game plan in that game. However, last week we seemed arrogant and wanted to play a style of rugby that isn’t suited to this time of the year.
Adrian Lam faces a crucial month to prove he is a quality head coach, rather than a very good assistant.
Darren Wrudd: On the night, Leeds played the conditions and the game itself far better than us and were deserved winners.
That really hurts, after the resting of certain players midweek and plenty of time to build up to the night, it felt once more that there was more enthusiasm from the Yorkshiremen than we had by some measure and that really is not right for a Wigan side studded with so many top-class players.
The first half saw our defensive line almost at a standstill, waiting for Leeds to run at us while they sprinted towards our plays in eager defensive mode to close us down.
The second half was much improved but the damage was done and we cannot accept being dominated by a Leeds pack who looked quite ordinary overall.
I hope lessons have been learned or I fear the play-off campaign may be a short one.
Brad Singleton is available this week and Tony Clubb and George Burgess are expected back in the mix next week. Of all of Wigan’s props – who should be starting, who deserves bench spots?
Alex Graham: Depending on fitness and attitude I’d start by fielding experience with Singleton and Flower. I’d then have Havard and Partington on the bench for youthful energy and versatility. For the last bench spot with Smith, I’d reluctantly play George Burgess.
He’s earning a large wage and if he was to replicate his general Souths performances he should be an asset to the team.
If his persistent hip issues (which are widely known in the NRL as having to be managed for the rest of his career) are still causing grief then it’s something Kris Radlinski and Ian Lenagan have to make a decision on for 2021 and beyond.
Steve Ford: We have a large quantity of props but very little quality.
From what I hear who are actually available, I’d start with Flower and Partington with Clark and Kilner on the bench.
I’d be disappointed if either Burgess or Clubb are selected. Burgess surely cannot be fit and Clubb cannot complete enough minutes or be effective when on the pitch.
I expect Smithies and Smith to be the other bench selections.
Sean Lawless: Wigan need to be playing the right props, for the right conditions and opposition.
Using the likes of Joe Shorrocks, Byrne is great in conditions where we need to have some pace around the pack and younger legs. But, as the season goes on and the more wintery conditions we play in, we need more grounded, experienced props like Flower and Singleton.
If those had been available last week, we may have had a chance in the game. As for George Burgess, he shouldn’t be playing until he is 100 per cent fit and if that is not until next season, then so be it.
Darren Wrudd: As we are not sure of which players have been found to have contracted Covid, I will assume that all are available for the purpose of this question. Morgan Smithies must be put back in play along with Brad Singleton and Tony Clubb.
This gives a different look to our pack instantly and then it’s a case of selection based on the challenge at hand.
I think Bullock has earned a run along with Ben Flower, but perhaps sit Partington and Byrne down for this one as I thought they were both looking tired against Leeds. Ben Kilner showed up really well mid week and I do like the way he plays the game. So he might add a little sparkle up front too.
And finally, today is four years to the day since the 2016 Grand Final. Which is your favourite Wigan Grand Final win and why?
Alex Graham: Growing up, all I knew was winning championships every season and going to Wembley every year, so to have no Championship success between 1998 and 2009 gave me a proper sense of achievement when we won at Old Trafford in 2010.
The impact Michael Maguire made on the club, the new style of rugby and perfect blend of experience from Sam Tomkins to Paul Deacon made the season so machine-like and efficient.
To beat St Helens in the final and to retire a rival legend such as Keiron Cunningham as a Grand Final loser was the cherry on top.
Steve Ford: It’s got to be beating Saints in 2010 albeit we should have beaten them by 30-plus points rather than a closer scoreline
Sean Lawless: The 2013 final has to be the best, a comeback against a very good Warrington side and we were guided around the field by a halfback with a broken cheekbone and who could only see out of one eye.
The 2013 team felt like the last dance for the great players involved in our success from 2010, the likes of Richards and Tomkins, at their very peak.
Darren Wrudd: I suppose I have very fond memories of many of the Grand Finals but 2016 stands out for me. Going in as firm underdogs, we took a squad missing many of our starting players and fought a tough game against an almost full-strength Warrington.
Well it’s always their year so we simply had to roll them over and we did.
Low scoring and not lacking controversy, the last 10 minutes or so were frantic and stretched my nerves to the limit, with relentless pressure from Warrington needing some amazingly committed defence.
A 12-6 final score, Liam Farrell a well deserved man of the match and later I was gifted a winners ring which remains a treasured possession and wonderful part of this clubs great history.