Talking RL: 'The only Wigan Warriors facts & stats that really matter...'
And right now, Wigan are embroiled in a crisis.
Wednesday’s 14-0 loss to Leeds was their third defeat in a row and the facts and stats which were flung around in the aftermath made their plight seem even more miserable.
An average of scoring 16 points a game, the worst in Super League.
Nilled at home for the first time since 1991.
More than five consecutive halves – 204 minutes of play – without a try.
Two full games without a try for the first time since 1979 – or 1965 at home.
When Richie Mathers is trolling on Twitter – “I was terrible when I played for Wigan, at least the fans can’t hold being nilled at home for first time in SL history against me” – you know it’s bad.
It feels like we’ve been here before, of course, and we have. Not too long ago.
But earlier this season when they were in a huge slump of form there was mitigation – and there was light at the end of the tunnel.
We either knew frontline reinforcements would be back soon, or we could see easier game over the hill.
Now? Not so much.
That line-up that Wigan put out against Leeds should have been capable of getting the job done.
Sure, Thomas Leuluai and Bevan French are gone for the year. Sam Powell is currently sidelined.
But take a look at the opposition ranks – did you see Luke Gale? No, he was injured. In fact, Leeds were on their ninth halfback partnership this season. The combination has changed for 13 games in a row, apparently.
So while we can accept the fact Jai Field is underdone, any excuses relating to the strength of the squad wear thin on me.
A backrow of Farrell and Bateman with Pearce-Paul off the bench. Hardaker and Gildart in the centres. Marshall and Bibby on the wings.
Hastings controlling operations from halfback.
And up front, there were so many props that Bullock, Clubb and Clark - all senior props - couldn’t even make the squad.
Whatever your thoughts on Adrian Lam, his post-match comments are often on point.
And when he spoke after the game about a lack of confidence in their performances, he was right.
Wigan started brightly enough, but when they couldn’t get over the line – especially when Leeds were down to 12 men – you could sense their self-belief just sapping from them.
They tried, of course they did, and they didn’t defend too badly.
But fans aren’t unreasonable for demanding more from a Wigan side. And by Lam’s own admission, they were “rudderless” at crucial points, their execution poor at others.
It has, inevitably, led some to demand change and launch an inquest into how they got there.
I’ve detailed, in my view, Wigan’s problems many times in the past – their lack of support for the young, hard-working props, their lack of a physical presence, both of which stem back to their failure to replace George Burgess.
Just one A-list, powerful prop in that mix would, in my view, lift the team's performance - and those of the younger forwards - to another level. It's an issue they've recognised and addressed for 2022, with the signing of two NRL props, but it's not helped them this year.
It’s easy to point the finger at Lam, and he has to take his share of the responsibility for the way they've played. As Brian Carney said on Sky, it's hard to see any fingerprints of his style, as a player and a coach, on their performances.
But making him the solitary scapegoat would, to me, be unfair if it absolves those responsible for spending and recruitment, Ian Lenagan and Kris Radlinski, and - crucially - the players of blame. Too many good players, by their own standard, are playing average.
Right now, I’m more concerned with another question: Where do they go from here?
Because for all those stats and figures listed earlier, only two really mean anything: Wigan are fourth in the table. And they have four games left.
Events elsewhere even went in their favour last night, with both Hull sides losing, preventing them making up any ground.
Yet if Wigan play like they have recently, it’s hard to see them winning any of their upcoming fixtures against Castleford, Warrington, Hull FC and Catalans. Lose all of those, and they’ll probably miss out on the play-offs. Win one, and they may stumble into the mix, and then fall out just as quickly.
Or, there's the other possibility - that they begin to play like they should, and they finish the season strongly.
It’s on them now.
Yes, they could do with reinforcements in certain areas - prop, three-quarters - and yes a couple of key players are missing, but their mantra during the whole Covid disruption has been 'Just get on with it', and that's what they need to do.
They have the personnel to do better than they have.
Those players’ CVs and past performances tell us as much – it’s why the bookies had Wigan and Saints as joint-favourites before the season began. Why, even when they weren't great, they were able to muster a seven-game winning run earlier this year which has put them, incredibly, into fourth position.
They head to Castleford on Monday, with the advantage of an extra day's rest. Of course I'd love to see a free-flowing, fantastic performance but given the circumstances, and the quick-turnaround, I'd happily settle for a win. Any win. It would shake that annoying monkey off their back, ease the pressure, and give themselves something to build on as they hurtle towards the play-offs.