Talking RL: The problems with saying who should get new deals
There's a lot of uncertainty swirling around several of Wigan's off-contract players.
Sam Tomkins has dominated conversations – and I still expect him to be at Catalans next year – but the futures of Ryan Sutton, Oliver Gildart, Romain Navarrete and, of course, John Bateman have also been discussed.
There are two big problems with talking about which off-contract players should be handed new deal.
Firstly, we don’t know the figures involved.
We don’t know what players earn, what offers they are getting from elsewhere, and how much space is available to spend.
And in a salary cap era, I’m guessing rugby director Kris Radlinski has a difficult job, especially with young players deserving improved terms and old players unsure whether to retire or not.
Of course we all have opinions on the ‘priorities’.
With many resigned to losing Tomkins, tying down Bateman seems to be top with many (for me, it’s keeping room for O’Loughlin to play on, and retaining Gildart), but it’s hard to make informed views without knowing the numbers.
And the Tomkins saga has reminded us of another important ‘unknown’: We don’t always know a player’s motivations.
When the speculation surfaced, I heard many ask, ‘Why aren’t Wigan keeping him?’ and ‘Why would he go to a club at the bottom?’
Not many considered another possibility – he wants to live in the south of France, according to Catalans chairman Bernard Guasch.
Bateman, Sutton and Gildart have said they want to have a crack at the NRL. But how serious are they about going now? Would they consider staying and developing here, first, and going down the track? I guess we’ll soon find out.
If I was involved with a bottom-four club in Super League, I’d be worried.
Approaching the midway point of the campaign before the split for the Super-8s, and Catalans, Hull KR, Widnes and Huddersfield are currently sitting in the trouble-spots. Salford, two points clear of danger.
Top-level talks are still going on behind-the-scenes about the future of Super League.
But, at this late stage, the murmurings are there won’t be any changes to the competition structure for 2019.
Which would mean a team could be relegated from the top-flight through the Qualifiers – especially when you consider how strong the top of the Championship is looking.
Leigh appear to have rediscovered their form – they posted 52 points by half-time last time out – and Toulouse and London are up there, along with Featherstone.
But leading the way are ambitious, and well-funded, Toronto Wolfpack, who this week unveiled the signing of Manly prop Darcy Lussick – a player far too good for the Championship – and are planning more signings.
Remember, they already have seasoned campaigners Ashton Sims, Cory Paterson, Ryan Brierley, Joe Westerman and Jack Buchanan on board, and they have yet to play a match in Canada yet.
There are nervy times ahead.
I’m a strong advocate for a proper reserve league. At the least, a return to an academy structure which has a Under-21s side – allowing, say, three open-age players – backed with an Under-18s. I’m convinced it was only ditched by clubs to save money.
The current system, which means the only games those too old for the Under-19s can play are on dual-registration for lower-league clubs, is unfair.
It’s up to clubs whether they choose to run reserves.
Thankfully, Wigan do.
And I’m convinced they are profiting from the second-string structure. Morgan Escare, for example, sparkled in a reserve game at Robin Park on Saturday.
When I spoke to Shaun Wane 24 hours later, he said the Frenchman – and Gabe Hamlin – had made strong cases for a return to the side.
But imagine if Wigan didn’t have a reserve team.
Escare and Hamlin may have had a weekend off – with no chance to impress.
Or they may have been shipped out to a lower-league club like Swinton or London Skolars, to play in different coloured shirts, in structures they may not recognise, alongside players they may not know. And even if they did well, Wane says the video of those matches may not land until after he is compelled to name his 19-man squad for the Castleford match!
There has been a lot said and written about Sam Tomkins in the last two or three weeks, for obvious reasons.
Let me add something which seems to have been overlooked – he is the best English full-back at present.
Surely, he has proved as much.
His recall to the international set-up can not come soon enough.