Talking RL: 'The two big questions ahead of Wigan Warriors' trip to St Helens'
Phil Wilkinson gives his take on the derby, the play-offs crowds problem, promotion - and saluting a reluctant star...
Can Wigan beat Saints? Of course. But they may need a season-best performance to do it.
It’s almost a given they will turn up with the right attitude – they have, in fairness, done that in the three losses this year, too.
Since their last defeat to Saints in July they haven't lost, and they have improved. I love the way the forwards are ripping in, intimidating their opponents. Their defence has rediscovered its teeth. But they'll need more than effort to beat an impressive Saints outfit, and the question is: Have they improved enough?
There is, of course, another big question: Will Saints be jittery given their run in big games? They have been outstanding under Justin Holbrook's watch but failed to reach both finals last season and lost at Wembley this year, and I do wonder if that has created a nervousness in their ranks. We'll have to wait and see.
This derby is always hotly-anticipated and with a place in the Grand Final up for grabs, I can't wait for this.
Wigan have sold more than 2,500 tickets for tomorrow’s derby, which is great.
Because the attendances of the opening games of the play-offs were disappointing.
The DW crowd of 9,247 was the lowest for a Warriors home game this year – and came just 24 hours after 5,000-plus watched Warrington’s play-offs match with Castleford.
It’s ironic that the most important matches get the smallest attendances, and I think Super League needs to consider much bigger incentives for season ticket holders than the £5 on offer.
Take tomorrow’s game.
For my family of five, the cheapest tickets to watch Wigan at Saints – without a season ticket discount, and without seats – would cost us £82.
I’m going to guess it would have been a similar amount last week.
I’m going to guess it will be a similar amount next week, if Wigan play.
And if they get to the final, I'm going to guess it would cost even more.
For many, that’s four costly weeks. For many, that's all on one pay-day. Who can blame fans for picking and choosing, and watching some games on TV?
Now, if Super League are content with the crowd figures, then they have every right to leave everything as it is.
This may not be an issue for them.
But I imagine that if I was a potential investor or sponsor, and I was watching the play-offs on TV, I’d be far more impressed with packed stands than banks of empty seats.
Well done on Toronto for securing their place in the Million Pound Game.
They are little more than week away from playing the promotion play-off, against either Toulouse or Featherstone.
But I’m not sure which of these two points is most annoying.
The fact the 'Million Pound Game' name hasn’t been ditched (it sounds like it was dreamed up by Dr Evil, and it isn’t even true... promotion is worth much more now).
Or that, days before the Million Pound Game, we’re still waiting for a guarantee that heavy favourites Toronto would be promoted if they won.
Congratulations to Sean O’Loughlin on his 450th Wigan appearance tomorrow.
The stats and caps and cups outline an impressive career but, of course, we all know it’s hard to quantify his real value. His vision, his aura, his ability to make players around him better.
From Sydney to Barcelona to Edinburgh to London to the south of France – and occasional trips to Hull, when I can’t persuade colleague Paul Kendrick to cover for me – it’s been a pleasure to report on many of those 449 matches.
Indeed, I’d not long started in this role when I covered his debut.
I started my match report: “Between the enterprise of Jason Smith and the finishing finesse of Brett Dallas, a reluctant star announced himself.”
Sometimes, reporters – like fans – can be guilty of talking up young players far too soon. Of using early promise as the base for bold predictions.
On this occasion, that reluctant star didn’t do too bad for himself.