The 18th man: '˜We will turn the tide and finish strong'
Our 18th man columnists discuss the loss at Leigh, goal-kicking, and Saturday's crunch quarter-final...
Angry, frustrated, gutted, you name it I’ve felt it.
It’s one thing being beat when we’re struggling, but having Leigh get their record points in a Super League victory, and first competitive win over us since 1984, is a disgrace.
I can handle being beat – I won’t accept being flogged.
This defeat goes down in the same way as the 75-0 and 70-0 in 2005 and the 62-0 last year.
What annoys me more than anything is the same things happened against Leigh that happened against Hull the week before, and that’s lack of discipline with us switching off in the second half, mainly in defence out wide, we’re picking the wrong options in defence and on our line we were atrocious.
We can’t use injuries as an excuse for that goal line defence or lack of discipline through the game, whether it was penalties or dropped balls – it’s basics.
Keeping your discipline doesn’t just mean not knocking the head off an opposition player.
It means sticking to the game plan, doing what you’ve trained in the week, focusing on technique even when you’re tired, and also not committing any foul play.
At times we our discipline and goal line defence was worse than most amateur sides so I won’t accept injuries as an excuse.
All of the above could be dealt with by having more leadership on the pitch, and certain experienced members of our team need to step up in this department, and other newer members need to focus more and use their brains.
Luckily, this week we may have Sam Tomkins, Gelling, Bateman, Farrell, Powell and O’Loughlin back for Warrington, another team who have struggled this season.
That’s a lot of leadership taking to the field and, although I didn’t think Sam would be the same player at fullback as he once was, I think he’ll make a massive difference to the side, relieving pressure from the halves in the leadership department and in the long kicking options.
Add to that having Lockers back is massive. It will probably see Tierney, Forsyth, Wells, Ganson and maybe Davies dropping out.
I’ve been massively impressed by the youngsters, who will have gained valuable experience from the last few months.
It all depends on Gildart and how he fared with his neck/back after the Leigh game.
Davies has been phenomenal this season, Forsyth has improved massively since he made his debut both in attack and defence, Wells looks to be a steady hardworking forward in the Chris Hill mould – something I think we’re missing in our pack – Tierney carries on in his industrious ways, and Ganson looks like solid back-up.
Let’s hope, and I’m confident, we will turn the tide and finish the season strong, starting this weekend against the Wire.
After four poor performances, it would be easy to heap criticism on the coach, players, backroom staff and even the club cat ‘Tiddles’, who could have tried harder, I’m sure.
But when you step back and look at the big picture, the situation is not yet out of our control.
We have such a talent pool here in Wigan that we have been spoiled for years.
World-class players trip off the production line and are drip-fed into a side brimming with internationals.
But we have been forced to use a team full of youngsters in critical positions due to the well-documented injury crisis. This I think has over-exposed the lads, which has the effect of the performances dropping off as young bodies tire and fatigue from punching above their weight for too many weeks, too early in their development. This can lead to a game full of errors in defence and a nervous-looking attack clambering to get back at the scoreboard, with results like last week at Leigh.
I don’t blame these young men at all – they give their all and put themselves in harm’s way for the shirt on their back and the glory of their club, and I for one have huge respect for them. Over the next few years, we will see an awful lot of these players and realise just how good they have become, but that does not really help our position now. What will, though, is the raft of players waiting in the wings to return to the playing field, and the biggest of them all in Sean O’Loughlin is a real boost. He has become the glue that holds the team together, and if he is injured we miss him more than any other player since Andy Farrell.
Add to that the five other senior players looking to return and the headache for Shaun Wane seems to be how many to feed right back in.
Well if it were me and if they were healthy I would put them all back.
As senior experienced players they should be able to fit right back in, even if the match fitness will take a few weeks to get right.
Our youngsters need a rest and it is time we asked the same questions of these senior lads to cover and do the hard yards in their place.
Thank goodness I am not the coach and I don’t need to make those difficult choices. Instead I can sit back and hope we can recapture some of that glorious form with which we began the year.
This weekend is trap-door rugby league – with no second chances. We want that Challenge Cup and, with luck, we will have the personnel to put Warrington out.
Isn’t it funny how things can change in a week?
Last week I said Wigan would still win the Grand Final and Challenge Cup. I backed that up by stating that they’d start with a win against Leigh.
I don’t even know where to start with the Leigh game, it was just embarrassing.
Losing to the club that sit bottom of the league is bad enough, but to let them in for 50-points was criminal.
We made a decent start to the game, getting an early try, which was not converted – who’d have guessed that.
But then things started to go very wrong.
Our attack has been fine, it’s the defence that’s been our downfall in recent months – and it’s just not acceptable.
We let Leigh in for some rather ridiculously soft tries, ones that you’d be embarrassed to concede at amateur level, never mind in Super League.
But once again, goal-kicking was a huge problem.
We wouldn’t have won the game if we’d have kicked all our goals, but we scored seven tries to their eight, and lost by 16 points. Last week against Hull FC, the game finish with six tries a piece, yet we lost by 13 points.
We haven’t had a strong, reliable kicker since Pat Richards left, and it’s something that needs sorting out.
We’ve had five different kickers this season – beyond a joke.
I do feel for the young lads in the squad, as they’re being let down massively by the experienced players in the team.
This week’s game against Warrington is huge, as it’s quite possibly the only piece of silverware left to win for us this year.
I’m not fully writing off reaching the play-offs, but it’s a big old task now. According to Shaun Wane, this Saturday we should be fielding a similar side to the one that faced Cronulla Sharks earlier this year.
I really want to be excited, but we’ve been let down so many times this season after being promised returns, I just can’t do it to myself.
I honestly think we’ll win on Saturday, if anyone returns or not. I think it’s the perfect chance for us to bring some much-needed happiness around the camp.
It’ll be tough, and the way both defences are, there could be a fair few points scored. But I just think our lads will fancy it that bit more.
So the ‘Battle of the Borough’ emphatically went Leigh’s way as the Warriors stumbled their way to an unlikely club record of most league games without a victory for over a century. The problem with Wigan at the moment is actually a complete reversal of last season, and what Shaun Wane would class as soft defence.
I’d prefer to say non-existent on the back of this game, where the Centurions racked up a half-century of points to claim a first competitive win against Wigan for over 30 years.
To Leigh’s credit, they are playing as well as I can remember ever seeing them play in my lifetime, and fully deserved the win with some great rugby. And while they will enjoy their moment in the sun, it’s great to see the sense of humour in ‘some’ of the Warriors fans’ comebacks.
I say ‘some’ as there are a lot of disgruntled fans at the moment – unhappy with the results, the performances and the noise of discontentment against Shaun Wane is getting louder with each damaging defeat.
The next two weeks are shaping up to be crucial for Wigan’s season, but I don’t think they are crucial for Wane’s future.
Win both and Wigan will progress in the cup and put a bit of space between themselves and that crucial eighth place. Lose both and further silverware looks lost for the season.
But back to Wane, many are calling for his head but surely he should get to see the season out at the very least.
Think about it – the guy steered us to a Grand Final win last season against the odds, and got us the biggest prize in the game this season with the World Club Challenge win against Cronulla, despite contending with a horrifc injury list for the best part of 18 months.
Now, I am not completely pro-Wane, and I think Wigan’s results should have picked up in the last few weeks as McIlorum, Leuluai, Williams and O’Loughlin have been available to reinforce key positions.
But I think we have been weak at fullback, inexperienced in the centres and lacking leaders. Having Gildart back has been a huge bonus, and with Gelling and Tomkins back we should have at last a settled and fairly experienced backline.
Adding Bateman back in gives Wigan that bite and grit in the pack so, on paper, there should be no excuses.
This week sees the distraction of the Challenge Cup and a game at fellow strugglers Warrington who, like the Warriors, can’t buy a win at the moment. It’s set for a ferocious, high intensity encounter with so much more at stake than your name in the next round of the cup.
Win and there’s a bit of breathing space – lose and the pressure on Wane and Tony Smith might just be too much for their respective board to ignore.
A Wigan defeat in two week’s time against Huddersfield would mean their worst winless streak for over century – and it isn’t great. But the amount of comparisons I have seen on social media, between the current form and 2006 are way off for me. This isn’t 2006 but it could be 2003. Wigan are in a completely different situation to the mess Ian Millward left the club in. We have a solid ownership team, a great academy and one of the best coaches around.
Wigan are short of confidence and overplaying young players against teams of men due to injuries. Ultimately that takes its toll and the past month has shown that. However, this season can still be rescued – starting with Challenge Cup success on Saturday against Warrington. Six returning first-team players is going to be vital, but even more so in terms of the leadership they will bring.
Wigan have been really poor in defence recently – very uncharacteristic of a Shaun Wane side – and I think one of the main reasons for this is the lack of leadership.
Bring back Sean O’Loughlin, John Bateman and Sam Tomkins and you have three international players who will ooze confidence back through the side. But it’s also three leaders in their own way and style.
I don’t expect Sam to be the 2012 version, running around defences for fun. But I do expect him to be the passionate, on-the-edge leader he had to become in the latter stages of last season.
That part of his game is enough for him to go straight back into the starting line-up.
Why else do I say this season isn’t a repeat of 2006 but could be of 2003? Well in 2003 Wigan went on an 11-game unbeaten run through to the Grand Final under the stewardship of the late Mike Gregory. Wigan have 12 Super League games left this season and they need to replicate the 2003 run of results to stand any chance of making a fifth Grand Final in a row.
A galvanising win in the Challenge Cup on Saturday may just be the lighting of the blue touch paper for Wigan – one way or another.