The 18th Man column: 'Bevan French will give us the X-factor in Grand Final'

Our 18th Man columnists discuss the Grand Final, derby duels... and the Man of Steel choice.
Bevan French has been tipped to give Wigan the X-factorBevan French has been tipped to give Wigan the X-factor
Bevan French has been tipped to give Wigan the X-factor

Wigan, St Helens, Grand Final. What are you predicting?

Steve Ford: Saints will improve from their performance the other week, with Alex Walmsley back in the pack, and the loss against us will still be stinging which I think will raise their game to another level.

We therefore have to step up to an even higher level and, without Ethan Havard and Ben Flower, I think we may struggle to gain enough ground when in possession to give the Saints too much to worry about.

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I still think it will be a tight game, but I can see Saints getting an early lead and will hang on and then kick on to win by a couple of tries.

I must admit I haven’t looked forward to a final as much in years. Probably need to go back to 2010 since I was this excited about a Grand Final.

Sean Lawless: I expect a similar game to the one we saw a few backs at the Totally Wicked Stadium. Defences on top with that brutal forward battle setting the scene once again, the addition of Walmsley back into the Saints side brings the game even closer.

I believe that game has given Wigan the confidence to win the game, and the X Factor of Jackson Hastings and Bevan French will see us come through with another Super League title and allow Sean O’Loughlin to bow out as the champion he is.

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Darren Wrudd: Fireworks! Two teams who are consistently the best in the Super League, both of them in great form and a heavy sprinkle of local derby thrown in for good measure.

Domestic games don’t come any bigger than this and I am hoping for a cracker. The emotion involved in Sean O’Loughlin retiring after this game is massive for our boys and, although Saints are trying to match it with Greasy Legs Graham slipping away too, Lockers is a one-club man, loyal to his team and not some old prop who used to play and came back for a jolly at the end of his term. There is so very much tied up in this game, I am expecting total commitment and concentration for 80 minutes of fast-paced, aggressive and controlled anger from our front men, with silky smooth and confident interplay with our fabulous backs. I can honestly say it’s the most excited I have been for a very long time!

Jon Lyon: A Battle Royale. It really is too close to call. If either team is even slightly off their best they have no chance. I presume James Graham will play because if Louis McCarthy-Scarsbrook can pass/fail and pass a HIA after he was in cloud cuckoo land then Graham should have no problem. In some respects it is a shame that one of Graham and Lockers has to end their career on the losing side as both have been incredible players, but sorry James, only a Wigan win will do for me.

As well as Jackson Hastings played last week, I’m hoping Sam Powell is back. We need to be as aggressive as we were against Saints a few weeks ago. If we can match them in the forwards, and I’m sure Alex Walmsley’s suspect knee will be well tested early on, then we have the pace out wide to score, and Bevan French to conjure up something from nothing. I’m going for Wigan to win by four points and Lockers to deservedly lift that trophy one more time.

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There are several intriguing duels – which match-up are you most looking forward to?

Steve Ford: If we are to win we need Hastings to probably have the game of his life, and he needs to totally outshine Lomax. He is improving game on game and now looks like the Man of Steel from 2019. I hope Hastings will bring his kicking game to give us respite when the going gets tough, and to give us territorial advantage at points during the game as I feel we will play a lot of the game in our own half.

If Lomax shines then that will mean the Saints pack will be on top, and it could be a long night in Hull. Hastings for sure is the better player. However, Lomax may have the firmer platform to play on.

Sean Lawless: There are so many battles across the pitch, but the key for me is the starting props of Bullock / Singleton v Walmsley / Graham. For the first time in a couple of seasons, Wigan now have a starting pack to match the one Saints have. The addition to Singleton is similar to the impact Joe Greenwood had a few years back as a mid-season signing, he has added a new dynamic that makes Wigan real contenders.

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Darren Wrudd: It’s not a single match-up as such but the edges. Both teams have some great combinations involving the full-back and both centres and wings and it is this that excites me. We have seen what Bevan French is capable of and we have also seen how our support play has improved dramatically under the leadership of Adrian Lam. Knowing we can defend well, it’ll be up to these combinations to open up the Saints defence, and they will try the same no doubt.

Sometimes just the bounce of a ball can change fortunes, but I find it hard to see anything but a Wigan win out of this game. I know it won’t be easy, it shouldn’t be, but we have the measure of this lot, and it’s time to conquer them on the biggest stage.

Jon Lyon: For all classy backs on both sides, the game will undoubtedly be won in the forwards. Both teams have powerful props, an excellent hooker and quality back rowers. Most of Saints’ best work comes off the back of their go forward from Alex Walmsley, so it is up to Brad Singleton and Joe Bullock early on to stop him in his tracks. They have both been in great form of late and I’m confident it’s a battle they can and will win. If we can do that, we will give Hastings and Leuluai the field position to work their magic.

Given you can’t go to the game, how will you watch it ?

Steve Ford: With my sons having a few beers. Wish it could be in the Jawbone, but at least we are in the final in what has been an extraordinary season.

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Sean Lawless: I will be watching the game with a takeaway and try to make it feel a little like a Grand Final night as much as it can be! The fact we have a Grand Final to watch, and that Wigan are playing a key part, is just an added bonus to the year that was 2020!

Darren Wrudd: I shall be watching sat in my very comfy armchair, sky remote in hand and beer on the side table. Having just eaten a lovey dinner as prepared by my darling wife, and with a grin from ear to ear (hopefully). I enjoy the build-up to the games even if it is just to hear the almost painful tones as the Sky pundits are forced to say something nice about Wigan. Although there is often a caveat from Brian Carney, who last week referred to Wigan as the league leaders, but followed on with ‘albeit after only just pipping Saints at the post’ – where’s the trophy Brian?!

If I can tear my eyes from the screen, texts are often sent to and fro with mother as she berates the referees. So although I would rather be sat there screaming at the lads, it’s only Hull so I bet they’ll hear me anyway.

Jon Lyon: Hopefully I’ll be watching the game at my dad’s house. A lovely home-cooked meal beforehand and a couple of ciders to see me through the game. No doubt my mum will keep popping in, taking a break from Corrie to check how we’re doing, annoying my dad by telling him we’re going to lose if we’re behind. I’m sure she just does it to wind him up! It will be very strange not being at the game, I can’t remember a final we’ve missed in the last 35 years. Ultimately if we win though I’ll get over not being there.

Was Paul McShane the right choice as Man of Steel?

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Steve Ford: I think it is difficult every year to determine Man of Steel, but this season has been ridiculously hard.

If I’m honest I’m just glad we’ve actually got to the end of the season to be in a position to make the award.

McShane would not have been my choice (Liam Farrell all day long) but he is a decent player and he accepted the honour with great pride and was very humble, which for me personally was great to see in the current situation in the sport and in life in general. The sport should go back to sports journalists selecting the winner.

Sean Lawless: Paul McShane shows why the Man of Steel award hasn’t managed to get the system right, still – even after all the changes!

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The current system, penalising those teams with more star names (like Wigan) and benefits those big fish in small ponds – hence Paul McShane winning. McShane has won fair and square and is an excellent player, but the system should be rewarding the best players at the peak of their game, influencing Super League. The likes of French, Farrell, Coote and Lomax are at a disadvantage with the current system.

Darren Wrudd: Taking off my Wigan shirt for a moment, I think Paul McShane is a fitting and truly deserving winner of the Man of Steel 2020. The hooker has reinvented his game under Daryl Powell at Castleford and is an absolute terror to play against. A tough, uncompromising player with a good sense of values which shows in the way he plays the game.

Not a dirty cheap shot merchant as some are in the league, McShane shines for all the right reasons. It would be easy to bemoan the lack of a French or Farrell, but to be at the top of the list alongside McShane shows how well they have done also.

If there was one man to make such a tough decision and whom could be trusted to make his decision for the right reasons, it is Ellery Hanley. So I have no issues with the award and wish him the very best.

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Jon Lyon: No disrespect intended but I thought all four other candidates were better choices. McShane is a very good player and always one of Castleford’s best, but standing out in a poorer team doesn’t make you the best choice. I don’t think McShane has even been as good as Sam Powell or James Roby at hooker alone.

The reasons Hanley spoke about giving the award to McShane – “performs in every game, consistently displays bravery, skill, athleticism” – personifies Liam Farrell and I think he’s been a much better player this season.