Sam Powell reveals how Wigan Warriors have transformed their season
At the end of May, Warriors fans could have perhaps been forgiven for writing off hopes of reaching this year’s play-offs.
A run of three Super League wins had been balanced by losses to Catalans and Warrington at Magic Weekend, with a sequence of three games on the road up ahead before tonight’s return to the DW Stadium.
Wigan started that run with a shaky 19-18 win at Hull KR before improving in each of their next two wins, over Leeds and Huddersfield.
And Sam Powell, who kicked the deciding drop-goal in that pivotal win over KR, says the right mindset has helped as they mount a charge to the top five.
“We lost a lot of experience at the end of last year in Sam Tomkins, John Bateman and Ryan Sutton – and it does take a lot to recover from that,” he acknowledged.
“It’s just taking time for people to adapt. There’s periods in games where it’s all in your head. Your head plays with you saying ‘you’re tired’.
“In the early rounds, myself included, a lot of us were being okay with that or on the down step.
“Your body can do it, it’s just your head. There are times I could put my hand up and say I need to come off but you have to tell yourself you can do it.
“The important thing for me, as a middle unit, is that we’re working hard for each other and we’re doing things as a middle unit we weren’t doing at the beginning of the year.
“We have that understanding that we all work for each other.”
The play-off places are now firmly in sight, and with fifth-placed Salford in town tonight, sitting on the same points as Wigan, a lot is at stake for both sides.
The winners will even climb to fourth, at least until Catalans face Leeds Rhinos on Sunday.
“We’re joint on points so it’s a massive game,” said Powell. “They have great players all over the park in Jackson Hastings and Niall Evalds so there’s some people to look after this week.
“But we’re going in the right direction. It’s coming to the business end of the season and we’ll give ourselves a bit more.
“We’ve fixed up a few key areas, we’re digging in for each other and getting results.
“Lammy keeps having a chat with us to make sure we’re playing our best rugby within the next few weeks and hope that we can carry that momentum, make it into the top five and give it a shot for making it into the Grand Final again.”
As for the play-off picture, cautious supporters would point out that the threat of relegation hasn’t disappeared despite Wigan’s upturn in form.
With 10 games left, six points separate rock-bottom Hull KR from Wigan and Salford.
Yet the gap between fifth and third is also only six points, proving how congested the table is.
But for Powell, any enjoyment of the close nature of the competition has to be saved for later.
“I’ll enjoy it when I know we’re safe,” he joked. “Whichever team finishes bottom will drop and it’s tough on the players but it’s what people wanted.
“We’ve put ourselves into a better position, not a great position. But at this time, momentum is key and we want to build it at our home ground.
“We haven’t started well so every game is massive for us.”
Thankfully, seven of those 10 games for Wigan are at home, at a time of year when they traditionally click into gear.
“Last year we were pretty unstoppable with 10 games to go, and we need to build up to that again,” said Powell.