Phil Wilkinson chooses his Wigan Warriors dream team of last 20 years

Warriors correspondent Phil Wilkinson leaves today. Here, he picks his Wigan 'dream team' of players he has reported on over the last 20 years...

Wednesday, 29th September 2021, 12:10 pm
Updated Wednesday, 29th September 2021, 12:12 pm
Phil Wilkinson interviews Sam Tomkins in the Wembley dressing room in 2011

Full-back: Sam Tomkins

It pained me to leave out Kris Radlinski, the safest defensive safety net I've ever seen, and a man who came out of retirement to help Wigan avoid relegation. My first final as a journalist was his heroic effort in the 2002 Challenge Cup decider in Edinburgh. But Sam Tomkins has to take the full-back role. He was a whirlwind of excitement when he broke through and he just got better and better. In the early 2000s, he was phenomenal... and it's good to see he's still going strong at Catalans.

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Winger: Brett Dallas

The role of the winger evolved in the 2000s... and BD had the scars to prove it. Not only a potent finisher with blistering pace - "he's so fast he could kiss a bullet," Adrian Lam once quipped - he was tough, strong, and he had the most sought-after yet often under-rated quality: consistency. He also earns brownie points for his longevity, serving Wigan for seven years and departing with the tear-jerking gesture of placing his boots in the middle of the DW Stadium pitch. His off-field troubles in recent years have been upsetting for anyone who knew him or saw him play.

Centre: Gary Connolly

By his own admission, Gary's prime was in the late-90s rather than his latter years at Wigan - but even in the twilight of his career he was a quality, dependable centre with incredible one-on-one defence and a varnish of class. I only caught the end of Steve Renouf's second year as a reporter - otherwise he may have forced his way into the side - while Martin Gleeson and, more recently, Oliver Gildart had impressive spells.

Centre: George Carmont

He joined Wigan with the nickname of 'Chicken George' because he used to work in a chicken factory and his name is, well, George. Not many Wigan fans knew much about him when he arrived in 2008 but he soon left his mark, forging a partnership with Pat Richards which bordered on the telepathic at times. Team-mates commented that he never dipped below 7/10 - at his best, he was slick; at his worse, he was still reliable. He could have easily played on beyond 2012.

Winger: Pat Richards

In Australia, he's known for that Grand Final try. Here, he was known for so much more. Deservedly won the Man of Steel in 2010, he was a phenomenal goal-kicker and he also struck one of the freakiest drop goals in memory, against St Helens. Like Dallas, he had a longevity rarely seen in Australians, staying loyal to the club for eight years. A future club Hall of Fame inductee, perhaps? As a reporter, I missed Jason Robinson's reign; Brian Carney, at his all-action best around 2003, was considered while Josh Charnley and Joe Burgess, at their prime, made some telling contributions.

Stand-off: Trent Barrett

Colleagues joked I had 'Justice for Trent' T-shirts printed, given how outraged I was he missed out on the Man of Steel in 2007. Baz was a class apart, capable of shredding defences with his vision, laser-guided passes or strong running game. In remembering the best matches, it's the comebacks which stand out the most - and his towering performance in a play-offs game at Bradford, when Wigan roared back from 24-points down to win 31-30, was one of the best.

Scrum-half: Adrian Lam

The freshest memories of him are obviously as a coach, but Lammy was a brilliant player. I was fortunate to ghost-write the autobiographies of Kris Radlinski and Terry Newton, and both said Lam was the best player they'd ever played alongside. He had talent, drive and decent pace but it was the way he orchestrated the side so masterfully that made him stand out. It was hard leaving Thomas Leuluai out of the side - I've never seen any player, of any size, cut down opponents quite like the Kiwi.

Prop: Quentin Pongia

He didn't spend a long time at Wigan, and if someone said Craig Smith, Terry O'Connor or even Stuart Fielden made bigger contributions, I'd find it hard to argue. But here's the thing; as a fan, in the mid- to late-90s, when it seemed everyone else loved Robbie Paul and Iestyn Harris and Laurie Daley, my favourites were the hard men; and none were harder than Quentin. The barrel-chested Kiwi, with a menacing glint in his eye, had an aura of being bullet-proof on the pitch. He even set up a Carney try at Knowsley Road with a kick. I was saddened by his death in 2019.

Hooker: Terry Newton

Speak to the players, and they'll tell you Tez was even better than you remembered. Because not only did he have the skills, the aggression and the support play, he also had the ability to unsettle opponents. "Good players just weren't as good when they played against Tez," his close pal, Adrian Morley, once said. I have many fond memories of spending time with Tez, writing his autobiography, and his legacy lives on in the good work being done for mental health in his name. Micky McIlorum was also considered.

Prop: Andy Farrell

I didn't want to move a player to a different position, but two things; I couldn't leave Andy Farrell out of my side. And while many will remember his bullet-passes from No.13, or maybe his little muttering to himself before he struck a goal, or maybe his "you beauty" celebration, my sharpest memories of him are of him playing for Wigan were from the front-row towards the end of his league career, leading his side into battle, telling Scully what he thought, and facing Leeds even with a displaced nose strapped up with tape. He didn't so much wear his heart on his sleeve as on his face.

Second-row: Gareth Hock

Tough one. Others gave sterling service for short spells - Dave Furner, Ryan Hoffman - and others made great contributions over longer spells (John Bateman, Joel Tomkins). But I had to pick Gaz. At his prime, he seemed unstoppable. I felt sorry for opponents who had to stop him - it must have been like trying to tackle a fast-moving bag of spanners. He had a knack of doing something daft but he'd more than make amends with a freakish offload, a sharp step or a bone-jarring hit.

Second-row: Liam Farrell

Describing the Ginger Pearl as consistent and hard-working seem almost belittling, because he gives - and has given - Wigan so much more. In a Super League packed with quality back-rowers, he made the Dream Team for a fourth time last weekend; it was well-earned. He is a quality player and competitor. I've also yet to come across anyone so committed to training. Faz was even in the Robin Park gym on Monday - so much for 'Mad Monday'! No surprise the only time he was told off by Shaun Wane, it was for training when he'd been instructed to rest.

Loose-forward: Sean O'Loughlin

The best I've seen. And - over the last two decades - the player who has earned more unprompted praise from opponents, and opposition coaches, than anyone. Even in the twilight of his career, Sydney Roosters coach Trent Robinson labelled him "incredible, one of the best players in the world". He has his share of YouTube clips - of passes and smashes - but Lockers' qualities ran much deeper. He brought a reassurance, a calmness, and so many subtle touches of absolute quality. Finally, Rads and Leuluai would have been included if I'd done a bench - possibly with Tez O'Connor and maybe the most exciting player in recent years, Bevan French - while coaching this fictitious line-up would be Shaun Wane, whose skills were far more wide-ranging than motivating players.