Wigan Warriors 2023 season review part one: History made, sacked coach and dummy of the season nomination
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2023 opened with three pre-season matches: two wins and a loss. Now-departed Sam Powell celebrated his testimonial against Salford with a victory, another at Whitehaven and a defeat at the Matt Johnson Prestige Stadium against Barrow Raiders in between.
Abbas Miski crossed for four tries during the pre-season schedule - giving a taste of what was to come.
Wigan’s trip to Craven Park opened Channel 4’s Super League coverage of the new campaign - a delight to watch since its introduction - but it was a losing start for the 2022 Challenge Cup winners.
Of course, the 27-round regular season is a marathon, not a sprint. Veteran Shaun Kenny-Dowall, who retired at the conclusion of the season, scored his first-ever Super League hat-trick during his side’s 27-18 victory, while England international Jake Wardle crossed for his first try after making the off-season move from Huddersfield Giants.
Back-to-back big victories were to follow.
Peet’s side bounced back the week after, hammering Wakefield Trinity 60-0 during the first home match of the season. The Warriors crossed for 11 tries altogether, including six before the break for a 34-0 lead.
Having finished the 2022 campaign as the competition’s leading try-scorer, Bevan French got off the mark with a double, while winger Liam Marshall bagged four tries.
It was Wigan’s widest margin of victory over Wakefield in a Super League match, surpassing the 56-6 scoreline from 2000.
The following week, Marshall would extend his try-scoring tally this time completing a hat-trick in a 36-0 win at The Mend-A-Hose Jungle in Round Three.
It was an arm wrestle in the first 40, with only the winger’s first try separating the two sides.
But they would go on to control the second half in what turned out to be Lee Radford’s last game in charge of the West Yorkshire outfit, relieved of his duties days after by mutual consent. He would go on to join Premiership Rugby side Northampton Saints as an assistant.
Loanee centre Toby King also crossed for his first try in cherry and white colours against the Tigers.
In Round Four, Catalans Dragons would earn their first win at Wigan since April 2011, with Steve McNamara’s side securing a 18-10 victory in snowy conditions.
It was a tough night full of errors on home soil, with incoming recruit Adam Keighran facing his future employers for the first time in the halves - assisting Arthur Romano’s try.
French scored twice the following week in the 14-12 win over Huddersfield at the John Smith’s Stadium, with outside-back Jake Bibby facing his former club for the first time after reuniting with ex-Salford boss Ian Watson. A game that won’t live long in the memory, before Wigan were forced to come from behind to claim a win over now-Paul Rowley’s Red Devils.
Australian French produced a fine individual performance, including two tries and a nomination for the dummy of the season - fooling future team-mate Tyler Dupree!
The ex-Parramatta Eels man took his tally to six tries in six appearances as Wigan came from behind 16-8 to win 20-16, with King scoring the match-winner in front of the South Stand.
Skipper Liam Farrell made his 350th career appearance in the victory, while Cade Cust was taken off after 48 minutes. The beginning of the end for the playmaker.
He missed Round Seven against Leigh Leopards in the ‘Battle of the Borough’ due to a neck injury, with Lebanon international Abbas Miski promoted to the wing, having featured for London Broncos on dual-registration earlier in the season.
French would shift to full-back and Jai Field to the halves and the pair would dominate at the Leigh Sports Village.
Adrian Lam’s Leopards would open the scoring through Tom Briscoe before tries from French, Field (2), Wardle, King and another brace from Miski.
The only sour note was the sight of Field leaving the field with a hamstring injury with 13 minutes to play, later returning in June.
Part two coming Friday.