Bateman reveals secret to successful comeback
Imagine training on top of a mountain, under the baking Dubai sun, and then in the arctic... all in one afternoon.
Those were the simulated conditions which helped John Bateman and Sam Tomkins power through 80 minutes on their comebacks from long lay-offs last weekend.
Bateman has lifted the lid on the most intense weeks in his life in the build-up to the Challenge Cup quarter-final, suggesting the timing of their return was as much by design than by accident.
“They pulled me and Sam in the other week and asked about us playing the full 80 in this game,” revealed the England forward.
“We put our hands up to play, but it’s a different story doing it!
“But credit to the physios and conditioning staff, they did a great job getting us ready.
“Bitters (Mark Bitcon, head of performance) went out of his way to do different things for us.
“We were in a high-altitude chamber, which restricts breathing, and it was 38C... mate it was tough.
“We did that for a week and, after Warrington took us right to the wire, I can look back and think: ‘It was worth it’.”
Tomkins hadn’t played since suffering a broken foot last September, while Bateman needed shoulder surgery after the World Club Challenge in February.
Highly-respected Bitcon took the pair to Manchester’s Institute of Health and Performance, where the conditions can be tailored for the athletes’ training requirements. He had previously used the set-up with champion St Helens boxer Martin Murray.
“It was a hell of a week for them,” said Bitcon.
“We got four sessions a day in during that week - weights and running in the morning, and then two sessions in the chamber.
“We’re talking 38C, training at 3,500m altitude so the air is really thin, and finishing in cryotherapy.
“We knew we were getting them back for this game, so we were thinking outside the box of things which would give them the endurance to get through.”
The ploy worked, with both scoring late to help secure Wigan a place in the semi-final – though Bateman admits he feared extra-time during a nail-biting finish.
“When I saw Stef’s penalty miss, I thought: ‘Yes, get in’. And then when they had the drop-goal I thought: ‘I can’t go into extra-time’, my lungs were going to burst,” he smiled.
Both coaches complained about the ball being particularly difficult to handle in the baking heat.
“It’s greasy, like when it’s raining, but you can’t do much about it – you’ve just got to get on with it,” said Bateman. “But yes, if we’d cut our errors and penalties down, I think it would have been a different game.”
He is now preparing for his first Super League game of the season at Huddersfield on Friday.
The Giants’ win against St Helens on Friday, in a game in hand, saw them draw level with Wigan on points.
But their superior for-and-against has put them in seventh spot, and elbowed the Warriors back to eighth.
Wigan remain closer to the bottom-four than the top-four, with five matches to go before the season splits for the Super-8s phase.
But with six frontline players returning to the fold last Saturday, they tackle this crucial period with renewed confidence.
Prop Tony Clubb and winger Dom Manfredi are also set to return this summer, though Ben Flower and Morgan Escare are out for the season.
Bateman admits the last few months have been particularly frustrating as he watched on from the sidelines helplessly.
“It’s one of those things, you want to go out there and play rugby, it’s what I get paid to do,” he added.
“Once I got back on the training field with the lads, I started feeling better, and to go through to the cup semis is a great feeling.”