Wigan Warriors: The 18th Man - 'After a really poor 2021 season, you could ask how on earth we managed to get four players in the England Knights squad...'
Wigan Warriors fans give their views on the Grand Final, whether it's right that Toulouse will be joining Super League, and which Wiganers should have been in the England Knights squad...
Are St Helens worthy champions this year? And where do they rate against previous Grand Final winners?
Jon Lyon: Short answer, no. It’s almost impossible for a Wigan fan to say that about Saints without just seeming bitter but, over the whole season, Catalans have been the better team. Even in the final itself, it has to be said that all the major decisions went St Helens’ way. From the missed red card for Mata’utia’s fourth-minute punch, for which he has been belatedly banned, to the potential penalty try, to the touch judge missing the Saints player’s foot in touch when saving a kick to touch, to only one side being hammered for offside in the first half, to the incorrect decision to penalise Sam Tomkins late on...the list goes on. All you hope for in a big game is that the referee lets the game flow and decisions even themselves out – and this was clearly not the case. Liam Moore has probably been the best referee in the league this year but I feel he had a very poor game in the final, and was let down by his fellow officials. As for comparisons to previous winners, I feel this team is well down the list behind some of the previous Wigan, Leeds and even other Saints sides. However, one thing you have to give them credit for is three wins in a row. Whether they deserved each win individually is up for discussion, but to find a way to win them all – especially with all that has gone on the last two seasons off the pitch – it’s only right to acknowledge this achievement. There, I’ve said it...are you happy now?
Robert Kenyon: Yes, Saints are worthy winners. When they won it in 2015, they were the worst team to lift the trophy. But as a group this lot are a good team. It just goes to show what you can do with a good coach. Not long ago under Keiron Cunningham, they were abysmal – and now look at them. There are very average players winning trophies, but that’s due to good coaching. There’s one jewel in the crown and I’d love us to sign him – and that’s Jack Welsby.
Darren Wrudd: However hard it is to say so, I found it a good match to watch and the right team won in my eyes for a few reasons. All this guff from Monsieur Gross from Catalans regarding the referee is just playing to the gantry, and another reason that I think the self-obsessed and disrespectful French should not be in the Super League. If you look at it carefully, I think the referee had quite a good game but for a couple of errors, one each way. A foot in touch was one, but Yaha’s was never a penalty try and it was the yellow card which was wrong, or the absence of one for Cassiano several minutes earlier for the same tackle on a Saints player. I didn’t exactly cheer Saints on, you understand, but I was glad they came out on top in a competition which we were no longer part of. Their consistency this year has been very good, perhaps due to the extra time off resting their players, but nevertheless it has been. They play a good style of rugby, too, so yes I do think they deserve the title this year.
Ste Ford: Absolutely. You can only play what is in front of you. It isn’t Saints’ fault that virtually all other teams bar Catalans have been on the decline for the last couple of years. I know even their own fans have been a little critical, particularly earlier in the season, but they compete from the first minute and defensively I rate them one of the better sides in the SL era.
Maybe attacking-wise previous Saints teams have been superior, but this Saints team I think could be even better with a different coach – if Justin Holbrook was in charge they’d be almost unbeatable in the current competition. It wouldn’t surprise me if they won SL for the next few years.
Toulouse are in Super League for 2022 - good thing or bad thing?
Jon Lyon: I am all for another French team in Super League. If we are serious about expanding our sport and hopefully increasing the competitiveness of the French team nationally then this is a great step forward. Let’s be honest, they can’t do any worse than Leigh did. While playing considerably fewer league matches than their Championship opponents, Toulouse have won every one of their games and have earned the right to have a crack at Super League. Hopefully they will have much better preparation than Leigh were allowed time for and can build a competitive squad. The only concern is they don’t overspend as, if they are relegated at the end of next year, they will likely struggle to keep their squad together. Let’s also hope that other teams don’t cherry pick their better players and actually give them a chance of competing. Hopefully by the start of next season travel issues between England and France will be less of an issue, and we can have something resembling a proper season.
Robert Kenyon: It’s good for rugby league expansion, providing they have a load of French players in the side. It will be a good place to go and watch rugby but I don’t want another Toronto – and by that I mean an exotic-sounding club name full of Australians and Kiwis propped up by a wealthy backer who may pull the plug at any minute. I remember Toulouse Spacers trying for Super League in 2001 or 2002 pre-Catalans, so there is a lot more appetite for RL than, say, Toronto. Ideally I’d like to see a French league with Catalans and Toulouse in, their game growing domestically, and a competitive French national side.
Darren Wrudd: Anyone who reads my ramblings over the years will already know my answer to this: Simply, no, not a good thing at all in my eyes. The sport is spread too thinly to expand like this. We have such good quality grassroots clubs here in the UK, which could make the game so much stronger and bring in bigger crowds than some current Super League clubs do. However, the governing body seem hell bent on pre-ordained solutions to our game’s lack of support by trying to gain the odd headline. Instead, I would create a 20-year plan to grow the domestic game each year to make it stronger by inward investment, be that cheap tickets and high publicity to get new bums on seats, or a proper look at long-term licensing to give clubs a solid financial income to plan and build. That Toulouse’s full-time players can beat the rest of the part-time clubs in the Championship is no surprise, so they have really just bought the ticket. And we know how well that went with Toronto. What happens if ever there was an all-French final – 1,500 fans in Old Trafford would look great, eh? But they are here now, so go on, please prove me wrong.
Ste Ford: Not too sure. A lot depends on if they can significantly improve the squad before the start of the 2022 season. If they can attract new fans they could help relaunch French rugby and ideally help improve the national team. Definitely going to try and make the away game next season.
Four Warriors – Kai Pearce-Paul, Liam Marshall, James McDonnell and Sam Halsall – are in the England Knights squad this weekend. Should any other Wiganers be in there?
Jon Lyon: All four are deserving of their place, and I think one or two others are unlucky to miss out. Morgan Smithies was in excellent form at the end of the year, and Joe Shorrocks and Oli Partington were playing well enough to get a look in. Whether Paul Anderson is trying out newer players, and feels he knows what he will get from Smithies, Shorrocks and Partington, I don’t know but they deserved a call-up and the chance to wear that shirt and push for a place in the full England squad. I’m glad to see Harry Smith miss out as he has been overplayed this year due to injuries and needs a well-earned rest if he is to avoid burning out. We need to protect these young lads for their own good, the majority have played far more than Lammy/Matty Peet would have liked.
Robert Kenyon: I’d have had Ethan Havard in the squad no doubt about it. Havard is one for the future, but good enough to be playing for the Knights now. Maybe with a bit more game time under his belt next season, we could see Brad O’Neill in the squad too and after a season under Lee Briers, there’s no reason Harry Smith can’t kick on and move up a gear and force his way into the Knights squad.
Darren Wrudd: If I take off my cherry and white glasses for a moment, I would say probably not. We finished fourth overall, granted, and that says something. But on the quality of rugby we saw this year, through one thing or another, it would be difficult to select any more of the youngsters who shone bright enough to earn representative honours. However, I would say Joe Shorrocks and Jake Bibby should be in with a chance of the England train-on squad. He has come on so very much this year and has saved our bacon many times, while I still can’t fathom where Shorrocks came from. Has he been kept in a cupboard under the sink in the back room with a cover saying ‘open in emergency’? He has sprung onto the scene and stood tall, looking all the high quality we expect from a Wigan player.
Ste Ford: After a really poor 2021 season, you could ask how on earth we managed to get four players in the England Knights squad! Kai Pearce-Paul had a steady start to his career and hopefully will kick on next season. Liam Marshall seemed to be getting his confidence back late in the season after a long-term injury, and maybe he might get the odd decent pass playing for the Knights. James McDonnell scored a cracker on his home debut and he could push Morgan Smithies out of the 17-man squad next season. Sam Halsall has been dependable in his few appearances and showed calmness under the high ball which belies his experience. He seems a bit lightweight for a centre at the moment so getting some match experience on the wing is a great opportunity for him.
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