Talking RL: 'The reason Wigan Warriors' season unravelled at the end'

Phil Wilkinson on Wigan's season, the NRL Grand Final, Magic Weekend and more
Bevan French's try was one of the few highlights of Wigan's semi-final loss to SalfordBevan French's try was one of the few highlights of Wigan's semi-final loss to Salford
Bevan French's try was one of the few highlights of Wigan's semi-final loss to Salford

Why, after such a strong recovery, did Wigan splutter towards the finishing line and then fall on their faces?

Wiser minds may try and convince me otherwise, but I think they ran out of steam. The same way I’ve often done on runs with the home-straight in sight!

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For months, they had been operating under the pressure of ‘need to win, need to win’ – Adrian Lam even talked about tippy-toeing the tightrope – to even make the play-offs.

It was exhausting, unrelenting.

There were no rest-stops, no cruisy matches, no let-up.

It was full-on, for weeks. And while the senior players seemed initially energised by the younger players who had come into the side, it was – in hindsight – understandable that they all faded.

They tried, sure, but they just didn’t have the sparkle, cohesion and intent that Salford showed on Friday night. Or St Helens the week before.

Wigan ultimately didn’t deserve to reach Old Trafford. Does that make it a bad season?

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Depends on your yardstick. Think of every club and the same question depends on your own gauge; London, for example, went straight back down but many would say they did better than they should have expected.

Ian Lenagan used to say his criteria for success was at least a trophy every other year (with so many clubs spending to the cap, my own is more lenient) and Lam’s predecessors Shaun Wane and Michael Maguire exceeded those goals.

This year, given the overhaul at the start, the injuries, the off-field distractions and the form of St Helens, I think a second-placed finish can be stomached... certainly if it’s followed by a brighter campaign next year, and the indications are hugely encouraging.

But I’ve enjoyed the year. Successful or not, I’ve enjoyed seeing the young players come through.

I enjoyed the Barcelona experience.

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At their best, I enjoyed the way they defended as much as the way they attacked.

I didn’t enjoy the shocking defeats early in the year but I did enjoy seeing other fans revel in the ‘crisis’... and I did enjoy Wigan overtaking most sides during their superb recovery.

And, yes, I’ve enjoyed dealing with Lam, who has been a class act through bad times and good.

For Wigan, it’s all over. But the off-season isn’t here yet.

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There’s a Grand Final to watch from a neutral perspective – if you can call screaming for Salford with a Red Devils scarf around your neck ‘neutral’ – a Nines World Cup the following weekend, and the teeny-weeny matter of the return of Great Britain.

Sydney Roosters defended their NRL title after one of the ‘most controversial’ Grand Finals in years.

Only, it wasn’t. Not really.

If you missed it, the referee momentarily wiped the tackle count clean with the ‘six to go’ arm motion as Canberra were attacking – only to, correctly, change the call seconds later.

Watching Canberra force passes, they didn’t look like a team believing they had a full new set in Roosters’ territory. It looked like they’d heard the ref correct himself and yell – count it, five times – ‘last tackle’.

Yes, it was a mistake.

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But it was one mistake in 80 minutes. And to suggest Canberra were somehow robbed of the game – when they had plenty of other sets in good position, and posted one other try – is ludicrous.

These are early days, but it’s encouraging that Canberra want to travel to the UK to play Wigan next year.

The idea has echoes of the ill-fated World Club Series but, however it is billed, I imagine it would be well-received and well-attended given the English contingent at the Raiders.

It’s disappointing to see Wish FM surrender its coverage of Wigan games.

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They’d already given up commentating on Latics matches and now the local Super League games have gone the same way. Why have local radio if it isn't local?

The Magic Weekend is heading back to Newcastle. Excited?

I liked the previous events in the north east and St James’ Park is a splendid ground in a fantastic location.

But I was hoping something could have been done to freshen up the Magic concept.

After experiencing Wigan’s trip to Barcelona to take on Catalans earlier this year, I wondered if they could repeat a similar showcase fixture as a double-header.

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Which got me thinking; would a Magic round work as three double-headers at different venues over a long weekend?

They could even use a couple of smaller grounds to create a demand for tickets, and play the matches over Friday, Saturday and Sunday in different locations.

The double-header Challenge Cup semi-finals work great - sitting through two games in one day is tremendous, three games is tiring - and smaller venues would look better on TV than playing in front of a half-empty huge stadium. It would need Sky Sports on board, because the current advantage is that Magic allows them to screen six games from one venue.

But I can’t help think something should be done to stop the Magic concept getting stale.