Talking RL: 'Adrian Lam's Wigan Warriors coaching legacy not yet crystalised'

So now we know, Adrian Lam will leave Wigan at the end of this campaign.

Friday, 3rd September 2021, 9:27 am
Wigan coach Adrian Lam

He’s certainly had it tough at times.

Even the circumstance of his arrival – as a one-year, seat-warmer for Shaun Edwards – was awkward, and then there’s been the small matter of the Covid pandemic, and the string of issues that presented.

When Lam arrived, the one thing I was looking forward to the most was a free-flowing, attacking style.

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That hasn’t materialised.

Yes, there have been highlights. Yes, it was his system in which Bevan French – one of his few signings – thrived.

But for whatever reason - and factors out of his control such as recruitment, departure of key personnel and injuries shouldn’t be so easily dismissed - we’ve not seen a flamboyant, attracting attack consistently enough during his time as coach.

Lam, though, has impressed me in other areas.

As a public figurehead for Wigan, he’s a classy operator. He meets depressing defeats and the prickliest of dramas and controversies with composure and a cool-head.

His passion for Wigan is unquestioned (he shed a tear while talking about the club yesterday).

So is his passion for rugby league.

To sit and watch part of a game with him is an education – he predicts plays with such prophetic efficiency, it’s easy to see why he was a great player and why he’s the current Australia assistant. One time I had a coffee with him and within five minutes, sugar sachets were spread on the table as he used them to demonstrate moves he wanted to work on!

Yet what’s impressed me the most has been the way he’s given chances to so many homegrown players, something he perhaps hasn’t received enough credit for.

He’s not been afraid to hand them debuts and he’s not been afraid to keep them in his side, often at the expense of senior and/or overseas players.

Some thought Lam may have been sacked during their recent poor run, but chairman Ian Lenagan has never fired a coach, either at London/Quins or Wigan.

And a look back at Lenagan’s record shows something else – he’s never appointed, as head coach, someone who’s been a head coach before.

Whether it was Brian McDermott in the capital, or Michael Maguire, Shaun Wane, Edwards or Lam, all the people he has trusted with the hot-seat had previously been assistants.

And so while there hasn’t been any confirmation, I expect current No.2 Matty Peet to get the role.

He’s young and he’s inexperienced, but he’s highly thought of, and Peet will have the added benefit of having the wisdom of Wane – set to return in a part-time, rugby director-type of role – to call on.

As for Lam, there’s no doubting he was a great player. As for his legacy as a coach, well, that has yet to be crystalised.

A bit like the football manager who says a draw is a good point if they win their next match, how he will be remembered will depend on what happens next.

If this season peters out, his three years will have peaked with last year’s Grand Final loss, sandwiched by two campaigns in which they went close.

Yet if they can continue where they left off on Monday, surge into the play-offs in good form and cause a nuisance when they get there, it will change the complexion altogether - and his legacy.

Either way, I wish him all the best with the next chapter of his life and career.

Super League is set for a “significant change” within the next 18 months, says interim chairman Ken Davy.

A plan for a 10-team league is on the table.

Of course there is.

They’ve tried 12, they’ve tried 14. They’ve tried a Super-8s, they’ve tried a ClubCall, they’ve tried play-offs involving four, five, six and eight.

Even tried licencing before returning to promotion and relegation.

It sounds about right that they’d give something else a go to, as Davy puts it, “widen the appeal”.

But all of those previous changes were made for the best intentions, with the boldest of hopes.

What makes them think another “significant change” will be any different?

As Wigan’s players celebrated a morale-boosting – and losing-streak snapping – victory on the pitch at Cas Vegas yesterday, I wrote on Twitter: “Every Wigan fan – however demanding – would have taken this before kick-off. Every one of them. Let’s not pick apart the flaws.”

Well, I was wrong.

Among the first to reply was a fan who wrote: “We were awful at times, but Castleford were a lot worse.”

There really is no pleasing some people!

Don’t forget how much scrutiny and pressure the players must have been under in the build-up to the match. Only a few days earlier, Phil Clarke said on Sky Sports it would be “the greatest turnaround in this club’s recent history if Adrian Lam can get them to win a game” during the run-in. And many people agreed with him.

To beat Castleford at their own ground is a tough ask. Keep them to nil, even tougher.

Yet they did that, with a gritty defensive effort which shows there’s plenty of fight left in Wigan yet.

Adrian Lam has a couple of selection issues before the Magic Weekend but I hope he sticks with his backs formation.

Sam Halsall was only called into the side to face Castleford on Monday morning, when Aussie Jai Field withdrew. Yet the 20-year-old was the definition of composure on the right wing, showing just why he’s been nicknamed “The Bank” (he’s safe) and showing nice touches elsewhere.

And the knock-on effect of him coming into the side was that Zak Hardaker returned to full-back – where he has far more influence – and Jake Bibby moved to right centre where he, too, has a greater impact. The team looks so much better balanced with those players in those roles.

Which is not to say Aussie livewire Field won’t have a role to play, but he’s still finding his feet after a major injury – perhaps adding some spark from the bench.