Talking RL: Wane's gains, the rumour mill, quips, injuries and a '˜mid-term review'

About a year ago, maybe two, I was chatting to a colleague while watching the Wigan players train on their pitch at Orrell.

Thursday, 24th May 2018, 11:07 am
Updated Thursday, 24th May 2018, 12:11 pm
Shaun Wane (right, with Joe Lydon) will end his long association with Wigan this year. Shaun Edwards (left) is one of the names mentioned as a possible replacement

We were discussing how the role of the prop had changed. The demands of the modern game means they are leaner, now. Fitter.

So much so, you tend not to find the fearsome, intimidating, snarling, bulletproof-looking front-rowers of yesteryear. Your Webckes and Pongias and Cowies and McDermotts.

“So, go on then,” my colleague said, nodding towards the training group, “if you were in a bar and it all kicked off and you could have one of them beside you, who would you want?”

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Easy, I said.

Shaun Wane.

As I read the tributes and counted up the achievements of his six-and-something years at the helm of Wigan, I remembered that story.

Because what I’ve enjoyed about Wane being the Wigan coach hasn’t just been the success, but the assurance he has brought.

Other people love his passion. I like his confidence and calmness under fire.

No matter how stormy the waters, no matter how big the obstacle, no matter how many are injured or who is leaving or what is being said, there’s been that feeling that everything will be okay.

That he’ll take care of it.

And he has.

Consistency is one of the most under-valued traits in sport and yet, with Wane in charge, Wigan have either won a trophy or reached a final – or both – in every season under his helm.

Even in their least enjoyable campaign – last year – they got to Wembley and won the World Club Challenge.

The World. Club. Challenge.

Remember that? The famous night they beat Cronulla and ended a 23-year wait to be declared the best club side in the world.

Just one of Wane’s achievements with his hometown club. By any measure, Wane’s been a success.

He should also be saluted for bringing so many young players into the side.

Sure, it’s easy to look at George Williams and recognise what a talent he is.

But there were a lot of fans calling on Wane to recruit an established halfback when Blake Green departed.

He didn’t. Instead, he handed Williams the No.6 shirt and told him he had time to make the coveted role his own.

Same when Pat Richards left, too, and Wane pinned his faith in a teenager with one first-team appearance to his name – Joe Burgess. There have been countless other examples.

I’ve also appreciated his candour and honesty over the years.

He will cringe at the coverage and fuss his decision to step down has caused.

For him, it’s all about beating Hull KR. Then Warrington.

And on and on until he achieves the goals he has set for his team this year.

It’s why his staff have nicknamed him ‘Relentless’.

Because he’s non-stop.

Only, in less than five months, he will stop. And his time with Wigan will be up.

The club won’t be the same without him.

The departure of Wane has sent the rumour mill into a spin.

Shaun Edwards is nailed on for it, apparently. So is Daryl Powell.

I’ve also been told Andy Farrell, Adrian Lam, David Furner, Mal Meninga, Trent Barrett and Des Hassler are getting the job.

The only rumour I immediately discounted was Sam Allardyce!

These are the type of discussions and debates which sports thrive on. Whether you love or hate Wigan, you have an interest in who is the coach.

But it can be a dangerous game for a reporter.

The longer I’ve done this job, the more satisfaction I’ve taken with being right about a story than being first with it.

And while there had been a rumour Wane would be leaving... it was to join Catalans.

Which, I was assured from people I trust, was nonsense. A case of someone seeing Sam Tomkins’ move to France to join Micky McIlorum and thinking 2+2= 467.

So I didn’t run anything. And I’m glad I didn’t.

Just as I’m glad I didn’t touch the rumour that Oliver Gildart had definitely signed for St Helens. Because if I had, I’d have egg on my face right now.

Who do I think will get the Wigan job?

I have no idea. And that doesn’t bother me because I’m not convinced Ian Lenagan has yet, either.

It’s easy to let your heart rule and imagine what it would be like with another former favourite at the helm – Edwards, Lam, Farrell, Trent Barrett even – without knowing whether they would be well-suited or even if they want it (I tried calling Edwards to ask him. It went to voicemail).

Lenagan is nothing if not thorough. Whatever your view of him, he has made good coaching appointments – from Brian McDermott in the capital, to Michael Maguire and Wane. Never sacked any of them, either.

He may move for one of the names above (not Big Sam). But equally, I wouldn’t be shocked if he went for a name no-one had mentioned – an assistant coach, even, like Sale’s Paul Deacon or Warrington’s Andrew Henderson or someone in the NRL we have never heard of.

When Wane succeeded Michael Maguire, Lenagan said he would change 10 per cent – as in, putting his own fingerprints on the club – and maintain 90 per cent.

Which, in my view, is all Wigan need this time. Whoever gets the job.

Wane used to be my favourite coach for quotes.

Not any more. Not only have the tongue-in-cheek remarks – “I don’t want a week off... like St Helens” – dried up, but Lee Radford has come on to the scene.

And he continues to produce golden quips, week after week.

Asked about Jake Connor, a player who gets under players’ skins like a tattooist’s needle, Radford said: “He’s just a horrible man, who is giving our team a reputation for being grubs and who can start a fight when there is no need to start a fight – but he can play.”

Credit to the RFL for arranging a two-game tour of Papua New Guinea for the England Knights.

It’s the type of experience and competition you would think would develop this country’s brightest young talent.

I’ve heard a few people say a problem with Super League is a lack of quality.

Thing is, there are plenty of quality players. But rugby league being the brutal collision sport that it is, many are often injured!

Man of Steel Luke Gale, Kallum Watkins, big Alex Walmsley, Ben Currie, Joe Burgess, Dom Manfredi, Greg Eden... all good players, all out for considerable spells.

And they’re just the English players. There are overseas stars out, too.

Which I didn’t think we could do much about, until I read that in the NRL, cutting the number of substitutions from 10 to eight has reduced the number of injuries. It’s all down to an increase in fatigue for the big fellas, apparently.

Something for Super League to consider?

Ralph Rimmer, the interim chief executive of the RFL, was asked by the BBC to provide an update about behind-the-scenes talks of a Super League revamp.

“We’ve got a strategic plan which runs from 2014 to 2021, we’re halfway through and we’re having a review,” he said.

“It’s just as you’d expect, it’s a mid-term review.”

A mid-term review.

To recap: The 12 clubs have taken control of Super League, appointing themselves as directors, recruited Robert Elstone as their new CEO (an appointment which, one week on from Everton’s confirmation, has yet to be announced by his new employers) and Nigel Wood has gone.

Some of the top-flight clubs want more power and money. Some don’t. Some want to change the structure of the competition. Some don’t.

A review, or a revolt?

The BBC’s Dave Woods suggested to Rimmer it was a civil war.

“I think the press are making a civil war out of it,” said Rimmer. “It’s part of a natural process.”

So it’s official, from the top. Nothing to see here. It’s just a mid-term review.

And all of a sudden, I’m reminded of the famous Thomas Jeferson quote about if choosing between a “government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter”.