Talking RL: Can Wigan Warriors go all the way?

What matters most? How enjoyable the ride was to reach the play-offs – or the fact you got there in good shape, and coming into good form?

Wednesday, 22nd September 2021, 8:10 am
James McDonnell is congratulated

Sure, Wigan’s season would have been a lot more fun without the scratchy wins, the frustrating performances and the losses.

Rarely, though, was their effort questioned and Wigan’s perseverance, those experiences and the return of some key personnel have earned them a home play-off game this week.

And let’s have it right – even the most enjoyable campaign can be remembered as a failure when a League Leaders’ Shield isn’t backed up by a Grand Final win (I’m thinking of you, 2012).

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Fans inside the DW last Friday

Similarly, fans can reminisce with Cherry and White tinted glasses about title triumphs such as 2018 when the journey to Old Trafford was littered with speed bumps.

Now, all that matters is, erm, now.

It is, as Oliver Gildart put it, ‘party-time’.

The players are excited, they are confident.

And there are plenty of reasons why Wigan should feel optimistic heading into the play-offs, not least their impressive display against Catalans on Friday night and a trend of defending well in recent weeks.

This series is a simple, Cup-like format; see the visit of Leeds on Thursday as a quarter-final, with the winners facing St Helens or, probably, Catalans in the semis.

Would you bet against Adrian Lam’s side going all the way? Leeds are no mugs, and – like Hull – they have a squad capable of much more. It promises to be an engrossing opening week of the play-offs, and hopefully Wigan emerge victorious.

Ben Flower has called it a day and Tony Clubb will follow him into retirement.

The two warhorses served the club well over the years. They never dominated the headlines but they certainly played their roles in the club’s success over recent seasons.

Their experiences and attitudes also helped smooth the development of a clutch of young forwards.

I wish them both well.

As much as Flower achieved in his career, my fondest memory of him was when he put my son’s dislocated finger back in place at a junior game – thus saving me about five hours in A&E!

A “strategic working group” has been set up to help shape a likely new structure and calendar for rugby league.

There’s already been talk, from the Super League interim chairman no less, of a 10-team competition.

I can imagine some of the powerbrokers switching on TV, seeing the fans and excitement at cricket’s The Hundred, and thinking, ‘We need to do something like that!’

And they wouldn’t be alone; rugby union has devised a bold new concept, with the announcement this month of a World 12s competition.

All rugby league’s stakeholders want bigger crowds, and new, younger audiences; it’s hard to blame them for looking at ways they can do that.

If they strike on a good idea, then power to them.

But the sport has always looked for something radical to fix its problems; when you thought ClubCall couldn’t be more ludicrous, along came the Super-8s.

And I can’t help wonder whether, in looking for the next shiny gimmick they can introduce, the fundamentals are being overlooked.

Maybe they should focus on the basics, first.

If they want to make improvement, maybe they could put themselves in the shoes of a regular Wigan fan.

At the start of this month, a Warriors supporter may have been planning an away day at Hull FC last Friday night.

What happened? The game was switched – with little more than a week’s notice – to the following day.

Not for TV. Just, because FC wanted to.

So let’s say that new slot was okay with the Wigan fan, who made the trip across the M62 to Hull, went to the ticket office, asked for a ticket... and discovered it was £29.

Begrudgingly, the fan forked it out to watch an ugly game, an ugly win. And when home, with fourth spot secured, saw on social media the official post from the club: “CONFIRMED: We will play at home on Friday 24th September”.

Maybe the fan marked the play-off game in their phone diary, maybe made plans around it, maybe got time off work, maybe even bought a ticket.

Only to later discover that the “CONFIRMED” game has been switched to the Thursday.

Compare those experiences with last Friday at the DW Stadium, a lively atmosphere for a traditionally poorly-attended game (obviously), free tickets to key workers, promotions for season ticket holders, no tinkering with the fixture date itself - it worked really well.

But here’s the question: do you think the “strategic working group” will consider issues like ticket pricing and fixture switches?