The 18th man column: 'Jackson Hastings will show Wigan Warriors fans what he's about'
Our 18th man columnists discuss Wigan's clash at Salford, the play-offs and the Dream Team...
Wigan-Salford tomorrow – who will win?
Robert Kenyon: Us and it’ll be a close game, with Jackson Hastings wanting to show us what we can expect next season. They’ve really impressed this season have Salford, led by Hastings, and it’s comforting to know he’ll be wearing the cherry and white next season.
Darren Wrudd: I do think that Wigan will prevail tomorrow, but we will need to be on our game as the whole season is coming down to the next three weeks. Salford have been flying recently and some of the old Wigan lads will be wanting to come back and spoil our recent form. Add to that our new boys, signed for next season, and they will have plenty of motivation to tick another Wigan scalp off their list.
With Oliver Partington sidelined it will be down to seasoned prop forward Ben Flower to step up after his almost cameo appearance last week, and this is when we will see just how much our young lads contribute.
We will be too much for this Salford side, but it is still possible that a rematch at Old Trafford would make a great game.
Jon Lyon: Wigan. The fact we have beaten Salford three times already this season will count for nothing, but I expect our huge advantage in big game experience will prove the difference in the end. Salford have been the surprise package of the season and deserve great credit for the top-three finish.
They have quality across the field, and in Jackson Hastings they surely have this year’s Man of Steel.
However what they don’t have is year after year of play-off rugby. Wigan have a team bang in form, with a great defensive work ethic and a group of players hitting top form at the right time.
It could be a classic if both teams go on the offensive, but I expect we will out-score Salford if it’s an open game and out-defend them if it’s not.
We will need a huge effort from the fans, too, with a big turn out and vocal support.
David Bailey: Write Salford off at your peril. Time and again the Red Devils have defied the odds, and make no mistake about it, while we might have Jackson Hastings from 2020, he will be pouring blood sweat and tears to try and get one over us this week. I’ve never known a player be held in such high regard by his fans even after announcing he was leaving. That being said, I just can’t see Wigan slipping up. Their defence has been terrific and things now seem to be clicking in attack.
Just a little mention for the academy, who once again are in the academy grand final. It really is an incredible feat and what truly makes Wigan such a special club.
Five teams are in the play-offs - which two sides do you think will reach the Grand Final?
Robert Kenyon: Wigan v Saints for the final, I think Warrington have had their thirst for silverware quenched with the Challenge Cup win, especially after last season coming second best twice. The only teams I can see heading to the final are us and Saints and – dare I say it – Wigan win.
Darren Wrudd: It would be superb to see a new name at Old Trafford, even if we were tasked to beat them and steal their thunder. Salford have shown themselves to be the real deal in 2019, with a major part of their success coming from a coach who has largely gone under the radar.
Ian Watson seems to instil a confident and relaxed approach to his charges, taking any pressure of expectation away which frees them up to play at their best.
The other team would come from Wigan or Saints. As I walked into the stadium last week, I had a chat with Kyle Amor, front row enforcer for the Red Vee, asking him if they had big-match fright this year. He said he honestly did not know and seemed sincere. This might just get the better of them again and leave them in the cold come final night which, while perhaps unfair seeing that their form has been awesome in 2019, would proper make me chuckle.
Jon Lyon: As the form team, and due to my massive bias, it’s impossible not to pick Wigan as one team.
I believe we are more than capable of winning away at Saints next week, too, should we beat Salford. The pressure to win will be all on St Helens after their failure in the Challenge Cup Final, and we know what pressure can do to them.
Castleford and Warrington are too inconsistent to progress all the way, so the question is can Salford beat St Helens?
On their day there is no doubt they have the ability, but it would require a season’s best performance to do so and I suspect they will fall just short.
Wigan v St Helens is the final I am hoping for, and the one most likely, and there will be nothing better than beating that lot at Old Trafford.
David Bailey: I have a nagging feeling that St Helens are going to bottle the play-offs like never before but surely they have got to reach Old Trafford – surely? No? I think Wigan will win their next two games and make, and I’m going to tip Salford to make the most of their second chance and make it all the way.
Liam Farrell was the only Wigan player in the Dreamteam revealed earlier this week. Any Warriors unlucky to miss out?
Robert Kenyon: Zak Hardaker has had a great season especially the start, but not more than Lachlan Coote has had for Saints, barring the Challenge Cup Final.
Maybe if Sam Powell had played the way he has in the latter half of the season then he could have played his way in, or maybe even Morgan Smithies might have sneaked in for a back-rowers spot. I think our poor start is the reason why not so many of our players made the cut. If it were a team that didn’t include the first nine games then there’d be a lot more Wiganers in there.
Darren Wrudd: In a year which started out very shaky for us, it is no surprise we have only the Ginger Pearl rated good enough to be in the dream team.
If we had just taken the second half of the season into account, I think you could have seen several others included from our squad.
Zak Hardaker has been outstanding this year and has paid us back the faith we showed in bringing him to the DW, plus stand-out improvement performances have come from Dan Sarginson and Willie Isa who would both have pushed for a spot.
But what can we say about our young forwards? Forced to step up as injuries bit hard, Liam Byrne, Oliver Partington and the amazing Morgan Smithies have blown me away. So probably the right player was chosen from our squad, but next year could be so very different if this keeps going.
Jon Lyon: Plenty. Konrad Hurrell and Kevin Naiqama have played well in patches and been average in other games, whereas Oliver Gildart has been a shining light for Wigan, especially in the early part of the year when we were struggling. His form hasn’t dropped off, more the rest of the team have risen to his early standards. I would say both George Williams and Jonny Lomax have been more consistent over the whole season than Blake Austin. While Lachlan Coote has had a very good year, his form, like Ben Barba before him, has dipped slightly towards the year end, whereas Zak Hardaker seems to improve game on game and is looking the player of old now, returning the ball with real vigour, and has been Wigan’s best player this season. I can’t argue with Daryl Clark’s inclusion, but Sam Powell has been in career-best form since returning from injury. I also don’t believe Ash Handley is half the player Liam Marshall is but, with Hurrell setting him up, he’s scored plenty tries, and that’s got him the nod.
David Bailey: As with the GB initial squad, look no further than Zak Hardaker. I know the voting tends to pander to the side that finishes top, but I know who I would rather have as my last line of defence. Zak has quietly gone about his business and scored an impressive number of points this season, and really put his heart into the Warriors. Let’s hope he has a quiet off season and comes back with that extra 20/30 per cent we all know he’s capable of.