The 18th man column: ‘A troubled league campaign is starting to look bright’

Anthony Gelling scores against Huddersfield
Anthony Gelling scores against Huddersfield

Our 18th man columnists consider Wigan’s top-four prospects...

Well, the Super 8s just got interesting again.

I feel like Wigan have now been presented with an opportunity that is well and truly last chance saloon when it comes to the Super League.

A Wigan win coupled with a St Helens loss ensures that Wigan are back in with a shout – well, maybe a loud whisper!

Wigan fans need to be Leeds and Castleford fans this weekend, as well as Wigan fans. A favourable result for Leeds, Castleford and Wigan will mean that going into the Challenge Cup final, Wakefield would be on 28 points, St Helens and Wigan on 27.

The downside?

Well, Wigan’s first game post Wembley is St Helens, away, with Ben Barba set to make his St Helens debut. Talk about doing it the hard way, it’s incredibly unlikely that any Wigan fan would expect Wigan to win at Wembley and back that up with a win against St Helens in St Helens but imagine if that happened… just imagine.

Win the next three games and all of a sudden, the outlook on a troubled 2017 starts to look very bright.

Three games to change a season of being World Champions, to being World Champions, Challenge Cup winners and with a realistic chance of defending their Super League crown at

Old Trafford. It’s definitely time to get behind the team and let’s see what the next three weeks have to offer.

Sean Lawless

I don’t think that last week’s win could have been more scruffy if Compo and Clegg were playing in the halves, but I will take a scruffy two points any day thank you.

I know that conditions were the same for both squads, but passes just stuck for the Giants and we needed to be bang on with our scramble defence throughout the game.

Time and again we had numbers in the tackles when previously we may have let them through and I hope this reflects the confidence that’s building in the ranks.

Huddersfield have been playing really well of late and would have fancied their chances against our recent form. But it just goes to show that if you want to work hard enough, if the desire is there, defence will win games.

We made many chances and half breaks in attack and yet struggled to find that finesse required to rack up the points, poor Joe Burgess got a couple of chances wrong and the fine line between success and failure was exposed again.

But overall I was happy with the effort and I am sure that the lads were too.

Some immense hits went in to dominate the Huddersfield forwards and our forwards stood up well. It seems that Michael McIllorum is getting back to his best and offered another dimension to our game which we have missed.

Sam Powell, however, steadies the ruck, delivers good ball and defends with great vision so they complement one another well.

With Salford desperate to secure their top four finish after a great year, we are going to have to step up our game to compete. We have shown many times that we are a big game team and can handle the pressure better than others. With one eye on a trip down to London it will be a chance for the lads to book their place in the final squad so expect to see some standout performances as they try to prove they are worth selecting. Shaun Wane is not afraid of dropping big names if they don’t excel, so I expect a big game show from our lads.

Finally, why not check out our under-19s side on Sunday at the Orrell ground. A semi final after finishing top of their league is a massive game with a kick-off at 2pm.

Darrell Goulding will have them fired up and ready to go and you will have a chance to see the next crop of young Wigan stars coming through the ranks.

Darren Wrudd

Last week, I’d given up on Wigan Warriors reaching the top four – one week later, it’s potentially back on.

It’s crazy how much can change in seven days, both on the league table, and in the stands.

Last Friday was a very, very good win for Wigan, but it was a dreadful game of rugby league.

I feel for the lads having to watch that one back during the week, it was an absolute bore-fest – which wasn’t helped by countless errors and penalties.

I don’t want to complain too much, as we won, and gained on the top four.

I thought our defence was a huge highlight against Huddersfield, it was superb.

While Huddersfield didn’t threaten us for the full 80 minutes, when they did, we stood so strong.

However, yet again our attack wasn’t quite there. We could and should’ve easily put 30+ points on that Giants side last week – instead we were taking shots at goal after penalties.

There were a few standouts last week. I thought the likes of Tommy, Clubb, Farrell, Powell and especially Davies yet again was brilliant.

However, we really needed to put in two solid performances both in attack and defence in last week’s game and tomorrow’s against Salford.

We had two weeks to set our stall for Wembley and send a warning to Hull FC – we didn’t do that last Friday.

Albeit, neither did Hull in their scrappy win against Saints, so I guess we’re even right now.

Tomorrow’s game is another huge one, not only as it’s the last before Wembley – but it’s also crucial in our revitalised fight for the top four.

We played a blinder against Salford just a few weeks ago in the Challenge Cup – a repeat performance would be perfect.

They’re struggling to find a win, only winning one of their last nine league games – which is a stat I actually had to look up twice to make sure.

They’re a very good side, with some real big players. It’ll be tough tomorrow night, and the win will not come easy.

I’d like to think our lads will be well up for the game, and we can go to Wembley on a high!

Ben Reid

What a difference a week makes!

After a shocking defensive performance at Leeds last Friday, Wigan to a man were outstanding this week against a dogged Huddersfield side. I don’t know if Shaun Wane had been feeding the lads raw steak all week, but they started the game with a real hunger for work, Sean O’Loughlin was especially devastating early on with some great hits and strong runs.

As a unit the defence was exceptional, conceding only one try all game.

Even that try was pretty dubious as it looked as though Joe Burgess had been impeded in the air as he tried to claim a high kick.

It was a mixed game for Burgess who has come in for some stick for his performance, a little unfairly in my opinion. He failed to ground an attacking kick and also take in a pass with the tryline begging in the second half, but the weather was atrocious, making both chances extremely difficult, and the pass, like many this season, was behind rather than in front of him, giving him little chance when running at pace.

Tommy Leuluai picked up the man-of-the-match award with another outstanding effort in defence and solid attack. He is still criticised week in week out.

I’m not sure what people are expecting of him. He’s not Johnathan Thurston and never will be, he has a different type of game, but what he does he does very well and is a model of consistency.

At 32 he’s unlikely to be tearing teams apart up the middle but he has weighed in with a couple of tries and a decent return of 11 try assists so far this season. His defence has also saved numerous tries on the right hand side where he is undoubtedly tougher to break down than Matty Smith was last year.

A tough match ahead this Friday against a Salford side no doubt looking for revenge for their cup semi-final defeat and also trying to push back into the top four after some very ropey recent form.

With the cup final looming it must be tempting for Shaun Wane to rest some players, but being only three points off the top four I doubt he will risk it. Both George Williams and John Bateman were limping by the end of the Huddersfield game so it may be worth giving those two a week off as they are so important to our team.

Finally, fingers crossed all is well for Dom Manfredi, sadly coming off with a knee injury in his comeback game from a year out injured, hopefully the scans show little further damage, the young lad deserves some good luck.

Jon Lyon

Substance over style – that perfectly sums up the Warriors at the moment.

Whilst the rumbles of discontent continue to echo around the DW Wigan keep grinding out results when it matters.

After the disheartening loss at Leeds, with many fans deciding that the season now rests solely on a Wembley win, the Warriors got a result which puts them firmly back in contention to reach the top four.

The fact that Saints and Salford both lost meant the gap was closed to three-points and with favourable results this weekend that gap could be narrowed to just one point before the Challenge Cup Final.

I am still not sure how to take the criticism of the playing style at the moment. If at the start of the season you offered any of the other clubs, a World Club Challenge win, a Challenge Cup Final appearance and a decent shot at the top-four, I can’t think of anyone that would turn that down.

A recent Super League stat also showed Wigan second only to Castleford in tries scored.

That’s not to say I am thrilled with the level of performance but a few years ago Wigan were brilliant under Michael Maguire but ended the season with only the League Leaders Shield. You can say what you like but under Wane, Wigan tend to win when it matters.

In fact had it not been for the Flower sending off and a dubious decision in the Grand Final against Leeds a couple of seasons back, Wigan could have won four Grand Finals on the bounce.

The pleasing aspect of this game was the defence. Wigan withstood several Huddersfield onslaughts and whilst tougher challenges lay ahead in the Super 8s, Wigan didn’t really seem threatened.

In fact you could argue their opening try should have been chalked off for interference/tackling in the air.

I am not sure what attacking rugby the fans expected either after the horrible downpour of Billinge rain in the first half.

I will reserve judgement on the season until a little later on especially after the turnaround last season after the Widnes game.

Next up at the DW are Salford and a win would see the Warriors leapfrog the Red Devils. Salford will be smarting after the Challenge Cup defeat still but more than that will be looking to stop their season going into freefall.

Lose this one and it’s almost certain they will have nothing left to play for and after such a promising start you wonder how the good Dr will react. I can’t see past a Wigan win for this one especially with players vying for that coveted Wembley spot.

David Bailey