The 18th Man column: Talking TV coverage & Wigan Warriors' next clash

Our 18th Man column is back, as our panel of Wigan Warriors fans answer three topical questions each week...

Thursday, 1st April 2021, 9:50 am
John Bateman playing against Salford in a pre-season friendly

What did you think of Sky Sports’ coverage from the opening round?

Sean Lawless: The biggest disappointment is the lack of change from year to year in the coverage.

Nothing felt new from the presentation through to the same cliches and agendas of the commentators.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

The ‘Barry and Tez Show’ of prop “banter” is as cringeworthy as ever, fresh ideas and new blood is needed. The one saving grace from the weekend’s coverage was hearing from Greg Inglis but perhaps more so, Kevin Brown. His analysis of the games was fantastic and only goes to show that we need new input and new voices from Sky.

Robert Kenyon: The coverage was average, I think it’s well overdue for an overhaul. I watch a lot of NRL and I like Dan Ginnane, I don’t think we have a single lead commentator that’s in the same league as Ginnane or Andrew Voss. If it were me I’d get rid of the lot other than Brian Carney.

Darren Wrudd: Welcome back to a new season eh, although the commentary was a little bit of the same old same old. That’s not meaning to be disrespectful, as the team certainly keep the microphones busy and chat away. But with a few rule changes it would have been nice for a bit more explanation for the fans who perhaps are not up to speed.

Other than that, the same niggles really. An inability to say if a referee has got it wrong, not to berate them but to point it out and move on pretty much as the Australians do and of course the inability of Phil Clarke to say anything nice about Wigan. Just in case anyone finds out he is a fan. There you go Phil, I’ve let the cat out of the bag so now that everyone knows it, you can be nice about us too.

Jon Lyon: It is good to be back! Being able to watch all six matches was of course fantastic, three cheers for football’s international break.

I seem to be in a minority of one but I’m still not taken by Brian Carney, he seems all over the place at times and his self confidence appears misplaced. I’d much rather see more of Jon Wells who I find less patronising and comes across far better, and in the long term it would be good to have Kev Brown on as often as possible.

Overall though, on the back of five days of wall to wall retro matches and documentaries, Sky have done well to start the season with a bang.

Ste Ford: If it’s possible the Sky coverage seems to be getting worse. It needs a major overall from start to finish. Compared to the NRL coverage it’s embarrassing in the extreme.

Andy Grundy: The excitement surrounding the return of live Super League action was certainly matched by the amount of fantastic coverage and attention given to it by Sky Sports over the weekend, who much to the delight of all rugby league fans, broadcast six live games.

And, as with all live Sky rugby league coverage, it often presents fans with numerous talking points regarding the interestingly varied opinions of the commentary team, with this weekend’s games being no exception.

Yet, all in all, a great weekend of action with viewing audiences up by 56 per cent on the 2020 average.

Pete Garry: I though it was fantastic that Sky showed the games all weekend and some back to back. If you live the sport as much as I do then getting to watch several games over the weekend is a real treat after so long without.

Sky Sports commentary does grate on me though, I really used to love the Eddie and Steve combination, Eddie in particular added excitement to the game (eg Wide to West and the last minute win over Bradford “wide to Renouf, Radlinski!!!”). Now it’s just not the same.

Alex Graham: An area in which Sky finally met expectations was the quantity of fixtures they aired which didn’t just provide the platform players deserve but it also created more talking points and awareness for the game.

However, the stale presentation from the usual dull personalities remained the same with tired regurgitated cliches, sickly old school prop banter and disengaging commentary with the exception of Jenna Brookes, Brian Carney and Kevin Brown as a guest, who are presenters the game should shape coverage around.

I thought it was particularly poor for Barrie McDermott to lazily watch one replay of the Leuluai tackle to throw him and Wigan under bus with patronising remarks like ‘’he’s better than that’’ and decide himself that is warrants a date with the disciplinary. There was a lot of abuse thrown at Tommy Leuluai and Wigan on the back of those comments which could have influenced the disciplinary process not to mention dragging Leuluai’s name through the mud. This is another reason the game deserves more relevant, interesting, brighter and more analytic personalities as the face of the sport for television.

Given Wigan haven’t won the Challenge Cup since 2013... if you could have one this year, which would it be - Grand Final glory or a Wembley triumph?

Sean Lawless: If I could have one this year it would be the one word, Treble.

This year is the year that youth prospects and a strong academy will pay dividends, with smaller squads across the board the reliance on having a great youth setup is vital and I think Wigan and St Helens will once again be the teams to beat.

The idea of winning at Wembley is always the romantic ideal and with the prospect of a decent crowd being allowed at Wembley and only being allowed to choose one, I would go for the Challenge Cup.

Darren Wrudd: The Challenge Cup is always a great away day and a special final to be involved in, so it would be wonderful to be back on our second home turf at Wembley.

But the Grand Final is so much more than that. A culmination of the top teams of the year battling it out to be known as the best.

Having shown consistency and managing to peak at the right time shows the club up to be something special and that for me is the big one.

So although its about time we lifted all three prizes in the year, I would settle for the Grand Final, then the Cup and the Leaders shield in that order.

Jon Lyon: The Challenge Cup Final is the better day out, it’s more of an event.

I think the earlier kick off time helps and there is often more fans from other clubs to add to the party atmosphere around the ground.

That said, if I can bring myself to even mention it, the way the Grand Final ended last year means I’m desperate for victory at Old Trafford this year.

We deserved better after a fantastic performance and the only way to get past that late heartbreak would be to go back again this year and bring the trophy home, preferably against Saints, even more preferably in the last second.

Ste Ford: Normally I would say Grand Final every year but the Challenge Cup I’m sure would be a major financial boost for the club so for 2021 and definitely 2022, the Challenge Cup should be the priority

Andy Grundy: A Challenge Cup win has not been secured by the club since 2013 and this thought provoking possibility coupled with the knowledge of the club’s previous success in such a historic competition, will undoubtedly be on the mind of Adrian Lam and his squad of more than able players. Yet at the same time, the consistency of being able to perform week in week out in the league and the necessity to secure the match winning points to climb the league ladder, will also be a major priority and for obvious reasons.

Personally, if forced to choose, my decision would lie with Grand Final success over that of Challenge Cup glory, however winning both would be even better!

Pete Garry: I’d love to win both but in an either or situation, it would have to be the Grand Final.

It just means a lot more to win the ultimate prize at the end of the road.

Coupled with the fact that Saints are heading for the three-peat and don’t seem to have gone down a gear in their season opener against Salford.

After last year’s crushing defeat when Welsby got the try at the end it would be nice to see Wigan step in and claim the win, hopefully in front of a packed Old Trafford!

Alex Graham: Until the profile and prestige of the Challenge Cup returns to anything close to what it used be the Grand Final will always be priority for me. The Challenge Cup used to be a journey which started months in advance and involved communities with plenty of backstory and commemorative fixtures for amateur, semi-professional and professional clubs.

Now it’s very little spoken off until a couple of rounds before the final when Super League clubs enter, then it’s just a couple of wins before the trophy is won.

I don’t think the disjointed relationship between Super League and the RFL helps, but when the day comes that they’re both under one governing body there does needs to be broader plans, vision and investment in the Cup to rival the Super League Grand Final.

Warriors take on Wakefield today – what are you expecting and who in the Wigan side are you most looking forward to seeing play?

Sean Lawless: Following on from last week’s victory, I am hoping for an improved performance with a greater defensive effort that we saw at the end of the 2020 season. The first two games were always going to be about getting through them with four points (or a 100 per cent win ratio depending on how you like your league table).

As we start to see Hastings, French, Gildart and Field return, the focus will quickly turn to getting the performances to match the calibre of talent at Wigan’s disposal.

Robert Kenyon: It’ll be nice to see Hastings back playing, the news stories and rumours follow him around like a bad smell but you have to admire his professionalism as he doesn’t let the off field stuff affect his performances.

It’s no secret that this year will most likely be his last in the Super League before a return to the NRL but we can at least know Hastings will give 100 per cent for us so its up to us as fans to acknowledge that and give him plenty support.

Darren Wrudd: Wakefield will be buoyed by their performance against Leeds, they could have won that game and will fancy their chances against an under-strength and slightly stuttering Wigan side.

I expect they will fire at us early on and try to capitalise on our slow starts to early season games, but if we can switch our heads on as soon as we step on the field, we will be up to speed as fast as they are and I can’t see us losing.

I suppose I am looking forward to watching Zak Hardaker develop in what I believe is his best position. We saw glimpses of what this guy can do and I hope we stick with him at full back as he can break a game wide open.

Jon Lyon: Wakefield played very well against Leeds but just couldn’t maintain their top level over the whole game so it will be a tough match that I hope our stamina will help see us through.

Our lack of first choice backs, losing poor Jai Field as well, evens the game up somewhat but if we fight for the full 80 minutes and start better than last week I think we’ll have enough.

I’m keen to see how Umyla Hanley goes again as he did very well under some intense pressure last week and it would be good to see him get a run of games.

The player I look forward to most though is Harry Smith. He seems to get better with each game and it’s a cliche but he has an old head on his young shoulders.

His kicking game will be vital for our field position and it looks like Tommy has been giving him some tips in defence too. The future is bright.

PS don’t kick to Tom Johnstone!

Ste Ford: I wouldn’t be surprised to a Wakey victory. A 14 point start on the handicap is almost printing money. I hope young Hanley plays. He’s had a difficult start so being selected again for the 17 would hopefully be a major confidence booster for him.

Andy Grundy: The game that will need more urgency and fluidity from the off than that of the Leigh game which left us playing catch up for the majority of the first half.

Friday’s performance without doubt will have been a topic of discussion and focus from both teams in the build up to this evening’s game, along with the tactics successfully deployed by Leigh coach John Duffy, that almost gave the Centurions a perfect start, which seemingly was to attack at full throttle from the blow of the first whistle and to cause disruption and chaos in defence.

Yet, as the saying goes, ‘a win is a win’, no matter how scrappy it may have been to achieve.

The return of Jackson Hastings after his brief stint as the team water boy, will be one inclusion that will bring the smiles to the faces of all fans.

Yet the impressive man of the match performance of Harry Smith in his absence, most certainly bares well for the future, although more work on his post-match interview style may well be a valid recommendation.

Pete Garry: I would have to say Hardaker. Since French isn’t on the team sheet this week I think Zak has another chance to show how solid he is in the full-back position. Despite last week not being our greatest game, there were some electric moments from Zak and BIbby which I would like to see repeated again this week.

Great news that Hastings is back but there’s a bit of a headache in the fact that Smith had a great game last week.

Hopefully after getting the first game and win out the way we can start to solidify our defence to get back to the solid and well-oiled machine that we were at the back end of the 2020 season.

Alex Graham: I must admit that after two less than convincing (albeit early) performances against Salford and Leigh I’m a little nervous facing a Wakefield side with nothing to lose and who have no fear about the chucking the ball about.

After the brilliant performance from Tom Johnstone at the weekend they’ll be looking out wide as the go-to.

The key for Wigan is the forwards getting on top from the start and if we play as we did in the second half on Friday it’s enough to stifle Wakefield.

But start as we did last week and we’re chasing the game against a team which will be fitter than Leigh who hadn’t played for 12 months.

Hopefully we’ll see French return which will give us more options in the backs and I’m hoping to see Harry Smith kick on from his man of match performances to prove he is the long term answer in the halves for Wigan Rugby League.