Comment: '˜Wigan Warriors won't be the same without Shaun Wane'
My first encounter with Waney wasn’t a happy one.
His academy side had lost and, on top of my report, a sub-editor had written the headline ‘lame academy’ (back when ‘Fame Academy’ was on TV). The call came the following day.
Waney, quite bluntly, explained how his busted side of young first-year players had had a dig, and he thought the headline was unfair (it was).
It struck me then that he was looking out for his players.
He was giving his forthright, honest view and he did it without holding a grudge – qualities which would go on to underpin the success he has had at Wigan.
And what success.
Great Good Fridays, Old Trafford trips, Wembley, the World Club Challenge.
Let that last one hang for a minute. The World. Club. Challenge.
Only the club’s fourth title, their first since 1994 and their first on their home ground since a certain S.Wane was named man of the match in the 1987 decider.
After serving his hometown club as a player, he’d later return as a scout, a scholarship coach, academy coach, assistant coach – a role he took a pay-cut to accept – and then, for the last seven years, as head coach.
Part of the furniture? He has been part of the house.
Waney has a reputation as a hard-task master, but he is far more than a motivator, much more than just being capable of firing proverbial rockets up backsides.
Who said men can’t multi-task? He can spin plates with the best of them!
Looking back over his time in charge, of course he deserves credit for his level of consistency – every year he has won a trophy or reached a final – but he should take heart from the way he has done it, with young players promoted into his side, time and again.
When Blake Green left for the NRL, there were many, many fans calling for him to sign an experienced halfback. But he pinned his faith in George Williams... and stuck with him and worked with him through some early teething problems.
And now he is an England international.
Same story when Pat Richards departed, and a young winger named Joe Burgess, with just one senior game on his record, was handed the starting spot.
His record of polishing rough diamonds, from Ben Flower to John Bateman, is impressive.
But having spoken to him frequently over the years, what’s really impressed me has been his confidence.
Two seasons ago, after a late-season loss to Widnes, we sat in the kitchen of his Standish home (he fancies himself as a chef) and – I swear this is true – he said, “We won’t lose again this year.”
I believed him. You could tell he believed it himself. They went on to win five straight games, including the Grand Final.
He is nicknamed ‘Relentless’ by his staff for working at all hours.
It is well-earned. I won’t miss his 2am text messages, replying to queries (sent hours earlier) about injured players.
But I will miss his candour, wise-cracks and – of course – the success he has brought to the club.
And I am grateful for the access he has given, allowing me to bring behind-the-scenes features to our pages and our website.
He has delivered for Wigan, time and again.
Always with his heart worn on his face for 80 minutes, and a wide grin afterwards.
On his first day as head coach he described it as his ‘dream job’.
He used the same phrase this week.
His dream job.
And soon, it will all be over.
Whatever happens tomorrow, he can look back on his time as coach with a great deal of pride and satisfaction. He has certainly left his mark on his hometown club.
The place won’t be the same without him.