Wigan Warriors- The 18th man: 'Don’t let anyone tell you 2022 wasn’t a fantastic season'
The 18th man contributors discuss Wigan Warriors’ play-off defeat and reflect on the season as a whole.
It wasn’t the ending we hoped for, but don’t let anyone tell you 2022 wasn’t a fantastic season for Wigan.
If someone had offered me a Challenge Cup win, second place in the league, a play-off semi-final and watching some of the best rugby we’ve played in the last twenty years, I’d have bitten their hand off back in February.
Naturally Friday’s defeat was hugely disappointing. Having dominated the first half we should have been two or three tries up, but our attack just didn’t click.
Leeds were exceptional defensively and earned a convincing win with an excellent second half performance.
I feel for Tommy and Lee Briers who deserved a much better send off for their contributions to our great club.
Hopefully if Lee does return in the future both might have the chance to add a Grand Final winners medal as staff members.
The loss to Leeds shouldn’t detract from how entertaining Wigan have been this year.
With French and Field fit for the whole season, and Liam Marshall in the form of his life we have been blessed with a side who have been able to score from anywhere on the pitch.
The truly fabulous news that Bevan has signed on, for another two seasons at least, means we should be equally thrilled over the next two years. If that isn't a reason to get plenty of bums on seats, I don’t know what is.
While the aforementioned three have taken the limelight this season, they have by no means been the only reason for our success.
Our forwards have more often than not dominated their opponents leaving the space and field position for our backs to work their magic.
Singleton, Havard and Ellis have been aggressive and made good metres consistently, but Liam Byrne has been at another level this year.
He has grown tenfold as a player in 2022 and if he continues in this vein he will have a genuine claim to be the best prop in Super League in the coming years.
Liam Farrell’s absence was a big reason we lost to Leeds, he provides such a cutting edge in midfield and has been in scintillating form all year.
Bateman has returned to something like his form prior to leaving for the NRL but Morgan Smithies is another who has excelled as the season has progressed.
His aggression has put many an opponent off his game, just ask Jack Welsby, and he has added to his attacking potency. Exciting times ahead for the Wigan pack.
Credit must also go to Harry Smith and Sam Halsall.
Harry is now one of the best halves in the league and has a great short and long kicking game, and Friday apart, has developed into one of the best goal kickers around.
Sam has struggled to earn a consistent starting position in the side but never lets anyone down when he plays, and in my opinion is a far better option than playing Bateman or Isa out of position in the centres.
Hopefully he will have a chance to stake a claim for a permanent place next year.
Huge congratulations to Matty Peet on his Coach of the Year award, the man who has made everything possible this year, even if he will never say it himself.
He does have great players and quality assistants and other coaching staff but Matt is the one who has been brave enough to blood players like Halsall and rely on young players such as Smith and Byrne, allowing the team to play an expansive style and it has been a pleasure to watch.
We all know Jai Field was robbed of the Man of Steel award, we’ve seen it before with Roby and Trent Barrett.
As well as Brodie Croft has played, no-one has been even close to how consistent Field has been and how many tries he’s scored and created and matches he’s impacted.
It may not make up for it Jai, but you’ve made this Wigan fan, and thousands of others fall in love with rugby all over again.
What a disappointment Friday night proved to be. We started off well, produced some good early kicks, and contained them in their own half.
We got the early try, but couldn’t make our sustained pressure count on the scoreboard, and that came back to bite us.
Leeds looked a different team in the second half, as they made the most of their chances. Then the Bateman sending off compounded matters, there was no coming back really, although the Marshall disallowed try could have gone either way.
We didn’t deserve to win on the night, so congratulations to Leeds on their excellent defence and team effort.
However, with the season as a whole we can’t complain, we have been royally entertained with some great tries which is what puts bums on seats.
As a family we have been to more away games due to this and by keeping French season ticket sales will be healthy in 2023.
Looking beyond the obvious contenders of French and Field, notable mentions to Smith, Marshall, Byrne, Havard and Smithies who have all shown considerable improvement, along with Mr Consistency himself Liam Farrell.
Also a fond farewell and thank you to Lee Briers who will be sorely missed.
Along with the rest of the coaching team, he has not only made us more entertaining, but also a force to be reckoned with, the final at Tottenham will live long in the memory.
Last but not least Amos thanks to yourself for giving me the opportunity to contribute, hope you and the readers have found my comments to be pertinent.
Enjoy the off season, and let’s look forward together to 2023
Friday’s defeat was very disappointing particularly, as it was on the back of what was a memorable season.
The defence shown by Leeds, not just on their own line, but across the pitch was exemplary, and if I was a Rhinos fan on Friday night I would have been ecstatic.
4-2 up at halftime was a poor statistic as we had the vast majority of possession and territorial advantage but we couldn’t turn that into points on the board.
There were about eight or so of us discussing the match at half time over a beer and none of us were particularly confident of a victory despite bossing the first 40 minutes.
I actually said to one of my sons that we wouldn’t win this one. It was one of those occasions where I wish I was wrong but unfortunately I was proven to be correct.
Our passing from the off was less accurate than usual and our timings were very stuttered.
I can only assume that Powell and Tommy's lack of match practice played a role in this but for me we missed Cust and O’Neill in the middle.
I would have replaced Mago or Ellis from the bench with Powell and started with O’Neill.
By the time of Bateman’s sending off the game was all but over so for me, it had no real bearing on the game.
Good luck to Leeds in the final they beat us fair and square but I suspect that the Saints game will be a game too far for them.
If you’d have asked me in January would I have accepted a Challenge Cup final victory and second in the league.
After the debacle of 2021 where we played probably the worst style of rugby that I’ve ever seen by a Wigan side I just wanted to be entertained.
Any success or trophies would have a great unexpected bonus.
I tip my cap to Matty Peet and his coaching team as we played some wonderful rugby at times and gave back some pride to the jersey and town.
My favourite game was Salford away where we scored brilliant tries against a team playing particularly well.
That was the game where I knew we had become a decent team and on our day we were capable of beating anyone.
The Challenge Cup final victory was also immense and scoring so late on to win just makes the game and day so much more memorable.
In over 50 years of watching Wigan, 2022 is one of my all time favourite seasons for pure enjoyment.
Although we have improved for me, we are still some way from becoming a great team, we need at least two centres and a loose forward.
I’m quietly confident that we will see at least two more signings before the end of the year.
The obvious standout players for 2022 were Field and French.
Both match winners and brilliant entertainers.
I think Smithies, Smith and Byrne improved almost beyond recognition from 2021 and you’ve got to think that this is driven not only by the players themselves but by some great coaching and guidance.
For me Marshall epitomises what the club is all about. Hard working, humble, professional and a great team player.
No matter how you hope for a result, if things just go against you there’s little we can do from the stands other than cheer and shout our support.
Unfortunately it was not enough to lift the squad and we saved a very ordinary performance for the biggest game of the year at the DW.
I suppose I am glad that it is not through lack of effort but more a disorganised playing style brought on by a very enthusiastic Leeds defence.
We have had that same effect on other teams this year and I just don’t know where our structure and attention to detail went wrong.
Leeds defence was very good indeed but that’s no excuse in itself, we had the beating of that team and should have done so.
But 2022 has seen a few hiccups of the same ilk and perhaps if one tough lesson is to be learned it is that we need to have a definitive ‘plan B’ and a way to implement it.
Somehow to be able to change our focus or game plan to catch an opponent off guard when they think they have a way to foil us.
One up runs from dummy half is not it though.
I know it gives a chance for some of the lads to catch their breath ready for another defensive set, but as a side that prides itself to be one of the fittest in the league, we should perhaps have a mad 10 minutes off loading or shipping wide, chipping the onrushing defenders or some such.
A couple of decisions could have changed the game, Marshall's no-try for one and what the heck was John Bateman thinking with that challenge, we lost the game at that point in my opinion.
Never mind though, the beauty is that we have the Challenge Cup in the trophy cabinet and get to cheer on the two sides this weekend in the hope they knock seven shades out of one another.
Looking back over this year, I have been surprised by Jai Field if I am honest.
He has certainly stepped up and taken his chances, much more than I expected.
But a couple of players whom I have been thrilled to watch are the likes of Willie Isa and Liam Marshall.
At second row Isa has such an amazing engine and a bubbling energy which can be contagious.
Also Liam Marshall I must single out for particular praise. This lad is as hard as they come and consistently runs the ball into the toughest of defenders with scant regard to his own safety.
Our lynch pin however, the player who holds the keys to the castle is Sam Powell.
The workload that he commits to in every game is immense. Giving us direction from every ruck and guiding us around the park to give form and structure to our plays.
For me, Sam would be my team captain, first name on the sheet each week and it is a pleasure to see how he has developed his game from that fresh faced kid several years ago.
The future looks bright, Harry Smith, Liam Byrne, Harvard, Smithies, my goodness I could go on, so my season ticket is already secure for next year as it should be a cracker.
Finally, a tribute to Tommy Leuluai, old granite shoulders himself.
For him to continue to perform at such a high level for his career is a testimony to the hard work he put into his training and to keeping his body fit.
I was saddened mostly that we could not send him out on a high with a final appearance but his total commitment to this club is humbling.
I am chuffed to bits that he is to remain on the coaching staff as he will drive standards in his charges as he did in himself, thank you Tommy, you’ve been a star.