Wigan Warriors: The 18th Man - 'The weight of responsibility he carries as he guides us around the park is immense, and yet he bears it so well'

Our panel of Warriors experts are in confident mood after watching their side take over at the Super League summit with three rounds remaining...and Old Trafford hopefully looming on the horizon...
Watch more of our videos on Shots!
and live on Freeview channel 276
Visit Shots! now

Darren Wrudd:

Salford put up a good fight last week, and if you were sat near their very animated chief executive in the West Stand, you would have seen how they thought they had been hobbled by the officials. But I think the game showed also just how well we are going as a squad. Our defence this year is finding an energy and fire reminiscent of, dare I say, Shaun Wane’s best years. The lads seem hungry to maintain a good line speed at the play the ball, rushing up to close down plays in an almost umbrella of defenders. But that energy comes from some very careful management of action. The coaching and conditioning staff at the club have much to do with that defensive line speed, and it all begins in the recovery from the previous week. Managed correctly with the correct scientific approach, we can gauge and prepare these athletes so well these days. But if the lads don’t buy into it, then it just won’t work. Then the week’s training, to keep them at their peak without flogging their reserves, and finally on game day itself. There is a real art developing within the ranks of taking their turns on the effort scale. Each in turn managing what’s left in the tank and hitting short bursts of effort for maximum gain. Then, when we are under the pump, we can find that energy where others fail. Mostly, we just see the lads turn up and play a game, but there is just so much preparation and effort behind the scenes it is just mind boggling.

If I had to single out anyone for that game, it would be Harry Smith. The weight of responsibility he carries as he guides us around the park is immense, and yet he bears it so well. Much of the attacking organisation begins from his instructions, barked left and right at his team-mates. But when tested on the edges in defence, he is quickly gaining a reputation for his hard hitting. I wonder if Tommy Leuluai is giving lessons, as that would add up. We may need that detail in the pre-match preparations this week, as a trip to Headingley usually brings its challenges. Leeds have not been up to their own standards this year but have still beaten Catalans and Saints, so the danger is there, and we are now at the top of the tree with everyone wanting to knock us off. I can’t see Leeds staying with us if we show the same commitment as last week, though, and if we smell blood in the water, we need to press every advantage and enjoy the day.

The Warriors players all sported the jerseys of their amateur clubs during training early this week as a huge 'thanks'The Warriors players all sported the jerseys of their amateur clubs during training early this week as a huge 'thanks'
The Warriors players all sported the jerseys of their amateur clubs during training early this week as a huge 'thanks'
Read More
Owen Farrell 'gutted' as he acknowledges 'mistake' which has ruined World Cup pr...

Stephen Ford:

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

I said last week we just needed to beat Salford, irrespective of the standard of the performance, if we wanted the Catalans win to really count towards the season's achievements. I thought the team delivered a decent performance against a well-drilled team who looked to play an expansive game from any part of the pitch. Salford passed the ball fluently and with some pace, but our defence looked composed throughout the 80 minutes. I was very pleased with our defence and we took our try opportunities whenever they arose. I thought the pass from French for King’s second half try was absolutely brilliant and, for me, one of the highlights of the season so far. I don’t think any individual really stood for us. However, I was really pleased Nsemba got more extended minutes, Mago played more minutes than earlier in the season, and we managed to reduce the minutes of Smithies without any let-up in the performance. The only very slight negative was O’Neill, who unusually had an error-prone game compared to his usual high standard. However, this perhaps enabled Peet to play Powell earlier in the game than planned. I’d give a strong seven out of ten for the performance, and a nine in terms of the significance of the actual victory.

The defeat of Catalan at HKR made the win even sweeter, and we deservedly stand at the top of the table. With just three games to go until the play-offs, the League Leaders’ Shield is very much within our control if we can win all three games. On paper, I think Saints probably have the easier run-in, with two home games which includes a very weakened Leigh team this weekend. Leeds will be very tough opposition on Saturday because, if they are to make the play-offs, they will probably have to win their three remaining games. Leeds gave us a good walloping at home earlier in the season and, although we got some revenge in the Challenge Cup, I am really hoping the team is fired up to avenge the league defeat, and they can keep up their current form and maintain our excellent defensive performances.

If Hull KR could beat Huddersfield on Friday night, that would almost end any hopes of the play-offs for Leeds, and maybe just lessen the intensity of their performance against us the following day. French continues to improve at half-back and Field now looks to be fully fit, so I am hoping our pack can lay the platform for the backs to deliver the tries to win the game. Although still missing Cooper and Havard, with Dupree back, I think the pack can get on top after what will be a very high tempo start from Leeds. The weather forecast is excellent for the remainder of the week which, for me, will only enhance our chances of a victory. Interesting times.

Glynn Bradshaw:

The Salford victory was closer than the score suggested. However, with the short turnaround, against a more than capable Red Devils side fighting to get in the play-off mix, we’ll take it. A slow start, but a purple patch before the half-time break meant the two points were more or less secure. French and Field were good, a lovely ball by Field for Wardle’s try, and likewise French for King’s try. Mago again put another good shift in...where has this form been all year? Three games to go and it couldn’t be tighter although, to be in with a chance of claiming top spot, I think we will need to win all three games, as Catalans and Saints have an easier run in than us. Leeds are a bit inconsistent, but have players in their team that can trouble anybody, with the likes of Lisone and Walters in particularly good form. We need to start better, but the return of Dupree should boost us. I always feel we are better at defending a lead, rather than chasing one. A good forecast on the day, and an exciting game in prospect, fingers crossed we can come away with the two points, and stay on course for the League Leaders’ Shield.

David Bailey:

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

The Warriors eased to a relatively comfortable win against Salford thanks to a late flurry in the first half, Jai Field once again collecting a Salford kick and racing away for a scintillating try, this time after the hooter. It was a real case of deja vu for the Red Devils to see Field scampering away from deep in his own half to leave them dumbstruck. Salford never really recovered from that blow, and Wigan managed the game almost to perfection, on a night when results meant they jumped back to the top of the table, with Catalans coming unstuck at Hull KR. Wigan were calm and composed and seem to be hitting a little patch of form bang on time. Byrne impressed once again, Mago made metres for fun, and French and Field showed their class on the ball with some superb passes to create tries for Miski, King and Wardle.

The Warriors now have three games to secure home advantage in the play-offs, and potentially the League Leaders’ Shield. First up is old foes Leeds Rhinos, who have really flattered to deceive this season. They have very slim play-off hopes, but need to win all three games. After the early-season capitulation at the DW and the shock defeat in the play-offs last season, you could say WIgan owe the Rhinos one. What better way to exact revenge than to extinguish their season with games still to play? There are a lot of unhappy campers in Leeds at the moment, with their recruitment and retention a key talking point. Wigan being a sore point especially, with Sam Walters joining the Warriors ranks next season. Wigan are almost at a full bill of health, with Dupree back in the fold, and I expect him to come in for Joe Shorrocks, with Harvie Hill dropping out of the 18.

The disciplinary was a talking point again this week, with Salford being hit especially hard and appealing with varying results. Many fans are claiming Paul Cullen has an agenda against the Wire’s next opponents, so it will be interesting to see if Saints have any call-ups after this weekend. I feel this is a must-win game for the Warriors to get a top two finish, as the teams around have similar run-ins, but I can see the gritty defence Wigan have shown in recent weeks getting them over the line.