Talking RL: ‘Wane’s earned fans’ trust with signings’

Morgan Escare has been a sensational signing
Morgan Escare has been a sensational signing
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It is the measure of trust Shaun Wane has earned from the fans over the years that, when they went four games without a win, no-one was panicking.

We all know it doesn’t take much for there to be a ‘crisis’ at Wigan!

Maybe a couple moaned – they always do.

But most reasonable fans seemed to understand the predicament they were in with injuries, realised they were playing some decent sides and noted three of the four went down to the wire.

And that faith was proved to be well-placed, with two Easter victories to cement their place in the top four.

Wane certainly has the Midas touch with the Good Friday game, winning all the traditional derbies under his watch. His record on Easter Monday is pretty good, too, with just one loss – at Salford two years ago – on his record.

Did you notice the other teams to win both of their Easter games? Warrington, Catalans and Leeds – perhaps those who say this punishing schedule separates the men from the boys have a point!

I mention the trust Wane has earned, and it’s the same with signings.

Because every time he has signed a Ben Flower or Dan Sarginson or Taulima Tautai – or Anthony Gelling, who was playing part-time in New Zealand – there were plenty of raised eyebrows. Even some letters from angry fans.

Same story when he has decided not to replace a departing player with a new recruit, and instead handed a starting spot to Joe Burgess, in 2014, and George Williams the year later.

Now, those complaints have gone quieter.

Signing players is never an exact science and there are one or two which haven’t worked out as well as hoped, but generally, Wane and Wigan do a better job than most.

Which is why, when Morgan Escare arrived in the winter, a few wondered where he would play and how he would go when ‘he can’t even get into the Catalans team’.

But they trusted Wane’s judgement. And how Escare has answered those questions emphatically, proving what a talent he is – it’s great news both he and Williams have signed new contracts.

Next week, Wayne Bennett will name a provisional England squad for the Test against Samoa in Sydney.

Most imagine both George Williams and Luke Gale will be on the plane – they actually fly out a day after Wigan and Castleford play each other – but with Gareth Widdop one of the NRL’s best-performers this year, it will be interesting to see who will start in the halfback roles.

Bennett has said he will limit his selections to a cap of three from each Super League club, given they have fixtures on the same weekend as the Test takes place.

As well as Williams, I imagine Liam Farrell will get called-up – not only has his form has been brilliant, but both Ben Currie and John Bateman are injured.

Sean O’Loughlin, too, should be in the frame, given Bennett initially named him as his captain – a measure of how highly he rates the loose forward – but didn’t get the chance to coach him in the Four Nations, due to injury.

Elsewhere, what a shame Oliver Gildart got injured when he did, as I thought he may have been in with a shout. Joe Burgess may do enough to earn a crack in the World Cup, too.

But for what it’s worth, I imagine the team will have Zak Hardaker at full-back, a three-quarters of Jermaine McGillvary, Kallum Watkins, Mark Percival and either Greg Eden or Ryan Hall – with Dan Sarginson included from the Gold Coast for cover.

Widdop and Williams to start in the halves, with a front-row of Chris Hill, Josh Hodgson and James Graham, Farrell and Elliot Whitehead at second-row, with either Sam Burgess or O’Loughlin starting at No.13 and the other on the bench alongside Mike Cooper, Daryl Clark (or Gale), and an in-form Burgess twin.

I will be interested to know whether Samoa call-up any Super League players – Junior Moors and Ben Roberts, especially, have done well at Cas’ – and if not, if that is down to selection issues or not.

Because if it’s down to clubs not releasing players. or down to financial reasons, it weakens the credibility of the Test.

Indeed, given we don’t know what Samoa are going to do, it’s possibly another reason why the BBC only tabled a modest offer to televise the match.

I must admit, I do have a degree of sympathy for Ben Thaler.

Having failed to send off Brett Ferres for a red-card offence, he was dropped.

So, when he returned to Super League, I could understand why he would take decisive action – against an apparently serious offence – by giving Kyle Amor his marching orders.

I thought Amor’s high-shot was awful. Replays suggest it wasn’t. Hindsight tells us Thaler should have consulted the video referee – and now he’s been dropped again.

He may feel like he’s damned if he does, and damned if he doesn’t.

After a game, it can be fun to go through the twitter feeds of the two clubs involved, to see how they reported the match.

Take Good Friday, a derby in which two promising wingers – Wigan’s Liam Marshall and Saints’ Regan Grace – lit up the big stage. They were terrific, weren’t they? Wherever your allegiances lie, it’s great to see such exciting British talent emerging through the ranks.

Wigan praised Grace, the jet-heeled St Helens teen, by tweeting, “Regan Grace races away, opening up Wigan’s defence” and later “Regan Grace is over in the corner after Saints created an overlap on the left.”

And what did St Helens make of Marshall’s spectacular finish in the corner, when he somehow managed to ground the ball before crashing into touch under heavy pressure? “Liam Marshall makes it 23-12.”

Talk about short and sweet!

Among the main talking points from the British and Irish Lions squad announcement – Dylan Hartley was left out, Ben Te’o was included, and Denny Solomona is set to tour with England instead.

Hmmm... there’s something all three have in common, and I can’t quite put my finger on it...