The 18th Man column: 'Wigan Warriors need change in mentality'

Our 18th Man columnists discuss how Wigan can respond from their 48-0 drubbing at Catalans - and reflect on George Williams' split from Canberra...

Thursday, 3rd June 2021, 8:25 am
Updated Thursday, 3rd June 2021, 8:28 am
Joy for Sam Tomkins against his former club

Was Wigan’s mauling at Catalans a shockingly bad off-day, or were they in a false position before it?

Robert Kenyon: I’ll be honest, I think a couple of players have papered over the cracks for far too long.

It’s not just a coaching issue, you look, the squad which is threadbare and there’s Wigan lads or ex-Wigan lads that would do well in our team.

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Sam Tomkins, Josh Charnley, Joel Tomkins, Jack Hughes, Tom Davies - that’s potentially a back line. Then there’s Kevin Brown, Lee Mossop, Dan Sarginson, Gil Dudson... I think we have let some good players go.

We have very little squad depth in both the forwards and the backs and it’s not as a result of picking up injuries throughout the year, most were injured before the season began.

The whole squad needs an overhaul, with George Burgess, Oli Gildart and Jackson Hastings going at the season’s end there must be enough money left to bring a couple of old boys home, obviously after we bring Williams back as a priority.

Jon Lyon: I hope it was just the former. It’s clear we haven’t been playing at our best, especially in attack, but no-one is, and that wouldn’t be sustainable all season anyway, I’d much rather they hit form at the end of the season as they have done in the past.

The constant switching of players and having them play out of position to cover so many injuries is bound to have a serious effect on the team and they deserve credit for battling through that to win the first seven games.

Saturday was shocking though.

Catalans got on top early and through a combination of their dominant forwards and our long standing problem of giving away too many penalties, we just couldn’t get out of our half all game. With most of the pace in our side missing, we didn’t have anyone who could make that break and change the game in our favour.

Once again the “Lam out” brigade are out in force.

I’ve yet to see Lammy miss a tackle, drop the ball or give away a needless tackle this season, give the man a chance to coach anywhere near our first choice team before people call for his head!

Darren Wrudd: I think it was a bit of both really.

We have scraped through some games recently against teams whom would normally be expecting a tougher test from Wigan.

Yes, we can grind a win at times but if an opponent seems to have more enthusiasm from the off, we simply cannot handle it.

Give credit to Catalans, they dominated the game with speed and energy from the off and in comparison, we were slow and almost unwieldy at times.

Add to that the disregard for ball security which is almost like an open invitation to maul us for points and we give ourselves no chance at all.

A little honesty in the ranks is perhaps needed, tough love we used to call it.

It’s all well and good pulling on that jersey each week, our actions on the field need to live up to the standards we expect as a club.

I don’t expect to win each week, but concentrate enough to give ourselves a chance at least.

Ste Ford: I expected a good hiding and we got one.

We haven’t played well for the vast majority of games and have probably won a few games where the result could have gone the other way.

I think that we will struggle to make the top four this season and the next three games you’d like to think are very winnable but I can see losses against Huddersfield, Hull KR and Wakefield.

Pete Garry: We got our backsides handed to us by a team that will hurt you if you don’t turn up.

We have yet to play the likes of Saints and Warrington which I think again will be a tough one for us and could go the same way. Hope I am wrong though.

Andy Grundy: If I am being honest, I could sense a heavy defeat was coming.

I did predict last week that it would be our first loss, so it didn’t come as a total surprise, but it was a shocking performance.

It was like watching men playing against boys with Catalans totally dominating the game throughout and leaving some huge questions on the table that will need to be answered and quickly.

I’ll say it again, I think as a squad we are lacking in physical size and whilst not ideal as we are still some way to go in the season, I do believe we need to start looking ahead as we need to quickly identify potential new recruits for next season and add some fire power and real physical presence, in particular but most certainly not limited to, in our pack.

With this in mind, I also think we need to look at the off-season training schedule to ensure players are not coming into the season underprepared.

Whilst granted the game is extremely fast paced with players slimming down to cope with the modern-day demands, if you are to look at the NRL as a typical example and some Super League teams, players are still from a physical size perspective intimidating to look at and more importantly the impact they have on the field is there for all to see.

They have more than a week before their next game - how do they respond?

Robert Kenyon: A complete change in mentality, someone within that team needs to take control as does Lam and his coaching staff.

That was embarrassing and our defence had the stopping power of wet toilet paper.

You could see the look on some of the faces of the players, specifically the younger ones who’d given up, were falling off tackles and making mistakes and it’s no good one of the senior players giving them a rocket if he himself is guilty of the same. Something’s not right and the squad needs a sit down and an open and honest discussion to figure out what’s wrong and what they need to do to overcome it because the Catalans game was pathetic.

Jon Lyon: Hard work on the training ground.

After shipping 48 points, I’ve no doubt the emphasis will be on our defence, but our attack needs work too.

Our back row need to offer a bit more in attack as we’re struggling to break the defensive line.

Realistically, without Hardaker, French, Field, Marshall and Gildart, we can’t expect free flowing rugby for the next few weeks. We are going to have to accept the team will be trying to grind out wins with solid forward play and Smith and Hastings being more creative only when we are well into the opposition half.

Fans may not be overjoyed with this but if you took Coote, Makinson, Percival, Grace and Lomax out of the Saints team, would you expect them to be scoring tries for fun?

I hope we see as many players play in their proper positions as possible.

I’d like to see Hanley have a couple of games at fullback, and if he makes the odd mistake let’s give him the encouragement he needs.

Darren Wrudd: I hope that there is no need to force a response into the squad as they will feel embarrassed no doubt at what they served up as a whole.

But perhaps some attention needs to be levelled at the lack of concentration during a game.

This should be done in a classroom rather than a training pitch and the psychological approach to how these young men manage under pressure needs looking at. There is such a fine line between playing a ball quickly and efficiently, or rushing it to create an error.

We can all see that these lads have talent, are tough, fit and above all love to wear that Cherry and White, but the pressure heaped upon those young shoulders needs handling carefully and is one of those things which could make all the difference.

I expect there to be a response, but I hope it is measured and carefully observed.

Ste Ford: Not sure that we will respond differently with the present coach.

We are one dimensional and teams now know that if they hang in there then they can turn us over.

Pete Garry: We need to get back to where we were at the point of the Grand Final last year, that game could have gone either way.

If we can get to that point again then we’re in with a much better chance, however I do feel that we need is to invest in some decent forwards instead of relying on the youngsters to make us yards every week.

We need some size and experience in the middle.

Andy Grundy: There’s only one way to respond and that is to be honest with each other with what actually went wrong in the game over in France and in other games. As we know our performances have been far from polished this season.

Yet to be beaten like that and by so many points, well it really needs a tough, rigorous session of detailed Q&A in my opinion.

There has got to be an honest hands up approach and an acceptance of who did what right (if anyone) and who didn’t and why.

Once this has been done the team need to quickly regroup and focus on correcting any issues identified and put in a quality performance combined ideally with a win.

I really think we are at a stage of the season where we could potentially see a run of losses if not quickly rectified. Therefore, it is imperative the team really focus now and not allow that possibility to happen.

They need to keep their heads up and not let the team morale drop, focus on one game at a time!

How do you reflect on George Williams’ immediate release from Canberra Raiders?

Robert Kenyon: If I’ve got this right, I can understand Williams and his pregnant partner wanting family around for when the child is born because I know first hand you need support especially from grandparents etc.

By what was said online Williams wanted to come back at the season’s end which is fine and an amicable end to the contract, after all he’s more than given Canberra their money’s worth.

If it were me I’d have stopped in Australia due to the Covid situation anyway, they are living normal lives in comparison. But Canberra have released him immediately and it seems like a knee jerk reaction, a bit of dummy spitting and the way the media over there have treated him is disgraceful.

People saying he should honour his contract, a lot has changed since he put pen to paper and I’m sure if there was no Covid then Williams and his partner would have flown in their family and friends and had a support network and would continue to flourish at Canberra but I don’t think the club realise that.

Jon Lyon: I can understand Canberra’s disappointment at George wanting to leave but they’ve not come across well with their decision.

It seems as though once George wouldn’t do what they want and stay until the end of 2022 they have spat their dummy and thrown George out of the Canberra pram.

With George seemingly happy to stay until the end of this year I can’t understand how letting him go is of any benefit to them, and it doesn’t sit well they publicly announced it before he had even signed his immediate release.

Trying to score points publicly against a young man struggling with his mental health who has barely seen his family during a pandemic and who also has a pregnant girlfriend with her family on the other side of the world is a very poor show.

If that is their attitude to player welfare then George is better off out of there, and hopefully he’ll bring Ryan Sutton with him!

Darren Wrudd: In a recent interview, Ricky Stuart, the Canberra coach, snapped at the pundit who questioned the judgement of the club and insisted that it’s the right call 100 percent the right call.

He reminded me of a spoilt child just told he can’t play with the others who decides to take his ball home.

Not wanting to listen when a player is obviously having a tough time is disgraceful and Canberra Raiders should be ashamed of themselves and the way they are treating George.

Rather than dropping it on the club at the end of the year, George has been honest in his approach and requested an early release, but Stuart throws the rattle out of the pram and takes his ball home.

If you get to read this George, just come home.

They do not deserve you lad. I would love to see you back here in Wigan but anywhere in Super League would enrichen our game.

Ste Ford: I’d like him back but only after we have signed at least two new props and two new centres.

I’m not sure that on his own he could improve the team. We are desperate for new decent props which for me is a far bigger priority.

Pete Garry: It would come as a great relief to get him back on side, especially with Hastings taking his leave at the end of the year.

A Williams and Smith combination is something I would like to see 100 per cent.

Andy Grundy: He’s clearly been struggling over in Australia to settle off the rugby field, he’s most certainly put in some cracking performances in on the field and I’m sure Canberra will be gutted to see him leave.

Yet, it is the other side of the world and his partner is expecting their child soon, so that added pressure combined with homesickness would be tough on anyone. Reading between the lines, I think the club could have done more to keep him for this season, but it clearly got to a point where they knew it wasn’t going to help him or them to keep him on any longer and his role became untenable.

I think George needs to get back home to Wigan and get back playing where everyone knows he belongs!