The 18th man column: ‘Could taking game to Oz keep Bateman and Gildart at Wigan?’

Oliver Gildart in training in Wollongong
Oliver Gildart in training in Wollongong
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Our 18th man columnists discuss Wigan’s trip to Australia, attacking style and the opening round results...

What pleased you most about Wigan’s opening day 40-12 win at Salford?

Darren Wrudd: Often we start slowly in Super League but it was nice to see some slick moves and one or two set pieces which really came off against Salford.

I am not a fan of swapping players positions during a game to accommodate substitutions, but the changes were almost seamless and shows just how much work has gone into the structures which everyone must follow.

Ian Lenagan said at the end of last year that we would pursue a more entertaining style for the fans and it seems that everyone is on board with that from the outset, this season just got a little more exciting.

Sean Lawless: The thing that pleased me most about Wigan’s win at Salford was their ruthless nature in killing the game off.

So many times over the past few years, Wigan have built up a slender lead only to allow teams back into the game. Friday could quite easily have gone the same way but their second half performance was of the highest standard and the way they killed off Salford was most impressive, along with Wigan’s left edge.

Ben Reid: Now, I unfortunately couldn’t attend the match last Friday, but thanks to Wigan TV, I was able to watch the full game. In the first week of the season, the main thing that you look for is the win – the rest that can come with it, is a bonus.

However, having said that, I did want to see some sort of ‘impact’ performance from us, and I think we definitely got that.

It wasn’t a perfect game, but I thought we played some really good attacking rugby.

In the first half, we were lacking that bit of something – but it certainly came to us in the second half.

We scored five second-half tries, and the majority came from our own half, which was a pleasant surprise. Liam Marshall’s second being the pick of the bunch, it was a blinder. We attacked with a lot of pace, precision and more importantly – confidence. It was a great start, and now we need to build on that this week.

Jon Lyon: The most exciting aspect of our dominant win over Salford was the options in attack we now have.

Last season there were times when we looked very laboured going forward, a lot of one man rugby and then hoping George Williams could produce some magic on his own.

The option of bringing Escaré off the bench and moving Sam to the halves finally gives us a Plan B should it be needed. Hopefully Sam will liven up our right edge too, and if that side can match the lethal left sided combination of Williams, Farrell, Gildart and Marshall/Burgess we will be irresistible going forward. Let’s not forget we won as well as we did without Burgess, Bateman and our talisman O’Loughlin.

Did any of the round one results change your opinion on who may do well - and who may struggle - this season?

Darren Wrudd: Not really. Saints are going to be the team to beat this year – I have said it for a while now. Barba has added an attacking flair to their back line and it will be hard to combat.

Leeds and Hull FC won’t be far behind and we will no doubt be a challenge too as we have finally tucked a good pre-season under our belts.

I am most hopeful but don’t wish to jinx it with predictions.

Catalans I think will struggle as their attitude to discipline has shown no change but the surprise for me would be Castleford.

I think that they will fall in a heap in 2018 as they try in vain to rediscover the confidence that was beaten out of them last October at Old Trafford.

Sean Lawless: Round one is ultimately a dangerous round to judge anyone on I think, including those who did well, Wigan included. So many times in the early season rounds, results can be skewed by fitness levels and even conditions. Castleford will recover and they won’t be the only team Saints make to look average this year.

The biggest surprise was probably Catalans, it looked like they struggled to put their poor 2017 season behind them at Widnes.

Ben Reid: The result of the weekend was Widnes beating Catalans. There are a lot of pundits and fans alike who predicted the Vikings to struggle big time this season – but they didn’t half prove them wrong in round one. They put 34-unanswered points on the Dragons in what was a sensational opening day win.

The question is, can they build on that now?

They have a tough game up against Castleford next, so it’ll be interesting to see how they go.

Speaking of Castleford, I predicted that they’d struggle this year – and they didn’t do much to show me any different in round one. They got hammered by a superb St Helens side, and brought right back down to earth. I do think that they’ll still be a tough side to beat, but they will no longer be blasting teams away week in and week out – it’s how they deal with that new pressure now, and I think it’ll rock them.

Jon Lyon: I didn’t expect Catalans to be challenging for silverware, but if they perform that badly in their opening game to a Widnes team I predicted would finish comfortably bottom then the future looks bleak.

I pity a man of McIlorum’s aggression and attitude if he has to watch the appalling tackling of his team mates all season.

I have never been a fan of Steve McNamara as a coach and I struggle to see him lifting his players to a higher level. Could this be the end of Catalans in Super League?

On the plus side, I thought Wakefield looked excellent and hopefully their tight knit unit could push on from last seasons improvements. It was great to see Tom Johnstone back on the pitch after such a serious injury and his hat trick was outstanding.

I hope Ryan Atkins was taking note of how to finish in the corner!

Do you support Wigan’s decision to take a home game to Australia?

Darren Wrudd: I suppose I do support the club’s trip to Australia and dearly wish that I could be there to cheer them on. From a purely financial position, we pay our squad more than any other club in the competition and after a net loss of over £600,000 in 2017, we have to improve to be a commercially viable club going forward.

The game against Hull FC will raise our profile even more and help the English game on the world stage, but the following week against the bunnies will see the most financially supported Wigan shirt in the history of the club.

So the trip will generate the cash to support our club and squad to reap rewards in the domestic competitions.

Yes it is disappointing not to be there, but I am so happy that our management at Wigan show real innovation and promotion of our brand which will keep the Wigan Warriors as the name most synonymous with the game on a worldwide level.

Sean Lawless: Absolutely, it’s never going to be universally popular but when Mr Lenagan put the financial perspective forward at the Wigan season launch, detailing the profit Wigan are likely to make from such a trip it seems like a no-brainer. It could ultimately be a decision that keeps the likes of John Bateman and Oliver Gildart, in the Cherry and White of Wigan for seasons to come due to the financial gain the club look set to make.

Ben Reid: It’s not something that has upset me like some Wigan fans – but it is a bit of an annoyance.

I mean, you wouldn’t see the NRL bring one of their league games over here.

As a season ticket holder, you do feel a little left out, having one of your ‘guaranteed’ games moved to the other side of the world.

However, at the same time, I see what they’re trying to do, and can appreciate the effort they’ve put into the whole project.

I’m looking forward to the game itself on Saturday morning, I think it’ll be a cracker.

If Wigan were to lose, and then struggle on their return – then even more questions will be asked about going over there for a game and potentially ruining the start to our season.

Some fans will moan about anything.

I think it’s a good idea, and if we get the win – the rest of the Wigan fans will be thinking the same.

Jon Lyon: With a rugby league hat on I think the games in Australia are a good idea to promote Super League, presuming Wigan and Hull can give a good account of ourselves, which I expect us to do as the NRL is still several weeks away from starting. Any chance to prove ourselves against the Aussies should be taken.