The 18th man column: 'Absolutely, Wigan Warriors will beat Leeds Rhinos. Here's why...'

These Wigan fans are expecting a different outcome to the opening game
These Wigan fans are expecting a different outcome to the opening game

Our 18th man columnists discuss Wigan's home opener against Leeds, the points deduction, the opening loss and Dave Furner's time at the Warriors...

Do you think Wigan will beat Leeds tomorrow night?

Sean Lawless: I expect Wigan to beat Leeds, many people have labelled Wigan as a team in transition which has often been dismissed by Adrian Lam but Leeds do look like a team in transition. Their performance at Warrington was shockingly disjointed and lacked organisation and a game plan other than give the ball to Konrad Hurrell. Leeds will improve but I expect Wigan to be too good for them on Friday.

Robert Kenyon: It’s a tough one, even though we will be at home Leeds are on the back of a heavy defeat by Warrington and they will be smarting. We have two ex Wigan players from the same team in Lam and Furner who have lost their first game at their new club and will want to break their ducks. A very narrow win for Wigan but only if they play as a team in attack and speed up the ruck in attack too.

Jon Lyon: Absolutely we will beat Leeds. I have seen nothing from either Wigan’s game against Saints or Leeds’ hefty defeat to Warrington to make me think otherwise. Whilst we were a little rusty, right up until Saints’ last try I was still encouraged enough to think we might sneak a late win.

Leeds have made some big name signings with the likes of Hurrell, Lolohea and Trent Merrin, but for me the rest of the squad, one or two apart, are decidedly average. I would fully expect our forwards to win the battle and as our backs grow into Lammy’s new attacking ideas I’m sure we will be more fluid in attack.

Jeanette Lusher: Yes, I most certainly do because everything that brought the loss at Saints is fixable. The negatives being a slow start to both halves putting us on the back foot and taking plenty out of the tank. Losing Clubb after 60 seconds meant forwards had to dig deep and put in longer stints, ensuing fatigue bringing about stupid penalties that gifted Saints possession and territory whilst increasing the pressure and workload on ourselves. The positives saw us claw level at half time through gritty determination and competitiveness. The level of fitness in the team to be still in the game right up to the last seven minutes was encouraging. Against Leeds we need to wise up and start better, defend better one on one, improve our kicking game, build pressure, keep composure and stick to the game plan – simple, job done!

Darren Wrudd: I think we have the ability to nil Leeds if they play like they did at Warrington last week, but they won’t! Leeds were really quite off against Wire and it flattered the home side, they won’t do that twice in a row and so we will need to show the same resolve we showed last week with perhaps a bit more finesse on our finishing moves and one on one tackles.

Whether it was nerves or bad habits, one or two tackles missed were down to shoulders and hips facing into play and being totally out of shape as the hit was required. That said, we are talking in millimetres here, but that is how close the modern game can be. But tweak those first night nerves back into shape and we will send them home as pointless as we shall be when we win.

Are Wigan right to appeal their points deduction for breaking the salary cap?

Sean Lawless: 100 per cent. I understand that this is the third time Wigan have been found guilty of salary cap breaches but for me, with my cherry and white tinted specs on, this one stinks. Wigan gained no tangible benefit on field for their £14,000 breach, an unprecedented injury list, a sixth place finish and a precedent set of over spending by 0.8 per cent resulting in a fine and no points deduction set by the RFL in their dealings with St Helens. Wigan have a very strong case and I expect that we will see those two points reinstated.

Robert Kenyon: Wigan are 100 per cent correct in appealing the points deduction. Isn’t it peculiar it happened just before the seasons opener against our main challengers? For a minor infringement of the salary cap where we didn’t gain a competitive advantage a points deduction is a disgrace. I thought the cap was live to prevent things like this? It sounds like a bit of a witch-hunt to me.

Jon Lyon: Wigan should definitely appeal the points deduction. The timing and severity of the announcement smacks of trying to derail our season before it’s even begun. Clearly Ian Lenagan has put a few noses out of joint at the RFL, there seems no other reason to deduct points for a clear administration error that had zero effect on our playing roster.

If there was no advantage gained on the field, why are we being punished so heavily? The question should also be asked as to why it took so long to find this indiscretion from two seasons ago.

Jeanette Lusher: Without a doubt we have to appeal the two points deduction! The punishment does not fit the crime! The club has readily admitted the error and given a full explanation. Unrestricted access has been given to club accounts so why so harsh? Why class the misdemeanour as a serious breach? Yes it is a third offence but not in the Lenegan era! If we are to look at previous offences then surely history dictates a precedent of a fine being sufficient for such a slight infringement. Reading between the lines, for me, it all smacks of vindictiveness, total unprofessionalism and retribution by the RFL. An announcement made the day before the season begins and a day after it is announced that no World Cup games will be held at Wigan – well, it’s hardly rocket science is it?

Darren Wrudd: The fine for a technical breach of salary cap is certainly fair and correct, we spent too much and that’s that. But when you see that the extra cash was a miscalculation of agents fees and not to gain any advantage on the field, the two points deducted two seasons later is a joke. If the RFL can’t or won’t see that, then the game as a whole is rigged in favour of others and why should we keep putting our hands in our pockets to pay for it? We will of course, as Wigan is better than that, but an appeal should certainly be launched. How fair and just that appeal will be judged depends of course on who sits to listen to it. Are they brave enough to defy the mighty RFL in trying to keep Wigan unfairly penalised, or are they just more puppets of a Leeds-bias organisation hell bent on placating Hetherington and his cronies.

Did anything or anyone surprise you from the derby?

Sean Lawless: The pace from the bench from Bullock and Hamlin really surprised me. Adrian Lam said that his expects his forwards to be fitter and target the bigger packs in the league and that blueprint was truly set by Bullock and Hamlin. How each team deals with the reduction in interchanges has been interesting and varied from club to club – Wigan’s was perhaps the most extreme but may have been influenced by the loss of Clubb.

Robert Kenyon: I was impressed with Joe Bullock and Zak Hardaker, both had good games. Joe Bullock looks to be the type of player we have been missing the last couple of years in a big tall prop, Zak Hardaker looks pure class and started to step into the on-field leaders shoes once Lockers went off. I was also impressed with the speed and tempo of the game, the shot clock really sped up the game and it was much needed and I felt the intensity of the match was really high considering it was the season opener. I was surprised by our lack of creativity if I’m honest, I was expecting something better but I’m sure it will take a few more games for things to click.

Jon Lyon: We can be happy with the efforts of the players on our first run out of the season. Considering we lost Clubby for the whole game after two minutes off the bench, the forwards really put their hands up for the extra work, Flower and Powell especially were exceptional. Bullock performed better than I could have hoped for. His was a debut in such a tough fixture and he looks like a real asset to the squad. Zak Hardaker did everything right, looked very solid under the high ball and worked hard throughout.

A couple of missed tackles cost us dearly but I’m sure that will have been worked on. The balance of our team seems better when Gildart is on the left working in tandem with Williams.

Jeanette Lusher: Ben Flower impressed me with his level of fitness and his pace. He played the entire first half and still served a good stint in the second half. He took the ball up hard and strong throughout and defended valiantly. He scored a well worked try and was unlucky not to score another. Joe Bullock is proving to be a revelation. I like what I’ve seen in the friendlies and I certainly liked what I saw at Saints. Joe seems very grounded and has a terrific work ethic. It will be a joy watching his development to secure a regular first team spot in what is a very competitive front row. Liam Marshall most definitely snatched his chance to secure a wing spot!

His alertness with his interception try and his impressive break up the middle were lovely surprises indeed! Top try scorer last season and who would bet against a repeat this season given enough game time?

Darren Wrudd: Firstly, I was surprised that the referee had such a decent game. First time out and such a big occasion, the few errors went both ways and I think he did a good job.

Beyond that, where on earth has Joe Bullock been hiding?

Good grief that lad made an impact. Going into collisions with no sense of self preservation and carrying the ball forward in a straight run, pumping legs making extra yards each time, brilliant. I can’t wait to see how he develops with this team.

Where does Dave Furner rank in your list of Wigan’s overseas forwards?

Sean Lawless: A very, very good player who during my time of watching Wigan is up there behind Craig Smith and perhaps Ryan Hoffman. The only thing that tarnished his ranking is the fact that he did go to Leeds and continued to be very successful at Leeds. A true Warrior though, even if he is one with an ivory tusk.

Robert Kenyon: I’d place David Furner as probably the best overseas forward Wigan have had in the Super League era. We don’t always sign that many overseas forwards as we produce backrowers for fun in England, but the ones we have signed have been high profile and very good players. Furner is up there alongside Bryan Fletcher, Ryan Hoffman, Craig Smith, Quentin Pongia, Robbie McCormick and Mark Riddell in being top class overseas forwards to play for Wigan. I was gutted when he signed for Leeds as he was top class, it will be good to see him and Lammy back at the DW, it’ll be like 2001 all over again so I’ll have to break open the Rockport boots and Henri Lloyd jumper to pay homage.

Jon Lyon: Furner was an outstanding forward whose presence at Wigan was invaluable both as a player and a mentor to younger forwards.

It’s always hard to rank players across generations, in my time as a supporter alone we have been blessed with some great signings with the likes of West, Du Toit, Dowling, Roberts, Shelford, Panapa, McCormack, Smith, Pongia, Fletcher and Hoffman, and some not so good, I’m looking at you, Wrecking Ball.

My personal favourite was Ian Roberts, a granite hard forward we only had for a few months in 1986/87 but made a lasting impression. If Furner wasn’t quite at his level then he was a close second best, and his talent and experience was just what Wigan needed at the time.

Darren Wrudd: There are not too many overseas forwards who really impressed me from memory, although my memory is not what it was.

Graeme West was awesome, Craig Smith was one of the most professional forwards I have ever met whilst Feka was possibly the most endearing and well liked (and still possibly is).

David Furner was a hard working forward with a great team attitude. He would do much of the hard work so that others could get the limelight and this is what I think he will bring to Leeds. So perhaps he would be up there in my top 10.