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The 18th man column: ‘I can’t contemplate anything other than a Wigan Warriors win’

Wigan celebrate semi-final success
Wigan celebrate semi-final success

Our 18th man columnists discuss the Grand Final, London’s promotion and the voting structure for the Steve Prescott Man of Steel...

Wigan-Warrington – who do you think will win, and why?

Sean Lawless: I think Wigan will win, I think they would beat any side at this moment in time. Wigan have momentum, confidence and a purpose in the form of the emotion generated from the departing players and coaching staff. I think over the past season we have seen a trend of finals being won by defence, the Challenge Cup, NRL and Million Pound Game – I expect Saturday to be the same and Wigan’s brutal defence being the key factor.

Jon Lyon: I can’t even contemplate anything other than a Wigan win. Long term injuries aside, we have a pretty much full-strength team and with Wane, Bateman, Sam and Sutton leaving we have more than enough motivation to win this one. I keep thinking that one time, by the law of averages, surely it must be Warrington’s year, but they keep proving me wrong. Lets hope the trend continues.

Steve Price has done a great job this year but if we play as we can and as we did against St Helens recently, we shouldn’t have to worry about what Warrington can do.

Our forwards are playing well enough to win the battle in the middle, though I do feel sorry for Gabe Hamlin who is likely to miss out again. As long as we can keep an eye on Stefan Ratchford getting on the end of Wire’s short kicking game, which has caused us problems this season, then we should send Waney off in the way he deserves.

Darren Wrudd: I do actually think that a Wigan win is on the cards. Warrington are a dangerous side, just ask Saints, they can cause teams real trouble and score points.

Their offload game can make them a real handful and tire out defences making more tackles than they should need to, but on the back of that is a confidence issue. If things begin to go against them, Wire seem to push too hard to make amends and lose composure in doing so. Wigan on the other hand have recently shown a steely determination to do the one percenters and go that extra yard to help out the squad.

Our attitude against Castleford pleased me more than the final score as we wanted it more than Powell’s men and it showed in how we fought for everything. Structure in our defence has got much better this year and we face opponents with square hips and shoulders for best effect in tackles. All these little things make a champion side and Wigan in 2018 is just that.

David Bailey: Taking off my cherry and white tinted specs, I still think Wigan will win the Grand Final.

I hope I don’t end up with egg on my face but it’s like the planets are aligning at the right time.

Form team – Tick (unbeaten in 9); Experience – Tick (huge number of Grand Final winners already playing); Personnel – Tick ( The Warriors probably have their strongest 17 available even discounting the injuries to the likes of Isa, Marshall and Burgess); Emotional Story – Tick, Wane, Tomkins, Bateman and Sutton (as well as Peet and Bitcon) all wanting to end on a high.

Make no mistake, it will be a tense, close game and the Warriors should underestimate Warrington at their peril.

But (and it’s a huge but) Wigan’s defence in the last few weeks has been unbelievable and it’s defence where titles are won. Warrington have been mean too, but I just believe the Warriors will put their bodies on the line one last time for Wane and this will be the difference.

Robert Kenyon: It is really difficult this one, both are really motivated with Wigan bidding farewell to a number of players and Shaun Wane and the heartbreak of the Challenge Cup Final for Warrington is also a wound that’s still raw so both will want to win massively. Either way, I hope it’s a game with both teams focusing on attack rather than defence. I honestly think that we will have enough to win it, we have the experience and always seem to win the arm wrestle type games when they matter, whereas Warrington are a bit hit and miss. They miss Ryan Atkins massively and his replacement, Toby King, is nowhere near the attacking threat of Atkins and I think that is the difference.

Are you happy to see London win promotion to Super League, instead of Toronto?

Sean Lawless: I really love the Toronto brand and I think they are and will be great for the sport, I just don’t like how they have started to play rugby under Paul Rowley, so in that regard I am delighted for London. I hope London can build and be competitive next season as they will be odds on favourites for relegation. I am very glad that London away is now back on the fixture list.

Jon Lyon: I was delighted to see London win the Million Pound Game. I will never be a fan of Toronto playing in the English game. Danny Ward has done a tremendous job this season and fully deserved his Championship Head Coach of the Year award.

As any team would, they are going to struggle to add top quality players to their roster at this late stage, and no doubt will be favourites to drop back down, but hopefully they can keep the momentum going from such a great end to the season and start brightly next year. At least they aren’t a team full of mercenaries…

Darren Wrudd: I must admit that from the off I was cheering for London and Danny Ward inspired a great performance from his team. Not a try scored showed how good defences were on both sides and I was overjoyed that Super League will have a team in the capital once more.

Toronto has some good players in the side and I felt for them as the tears flowed at the end of the game, but I think they had bought into the hype that they were a shoo-in for the top tier.

I simply disagree with the attempt to expand the game in this way and I know I am out of sync with many others on this one. But if we are to build this sport into its best possible version in the UK, we need to start with a firm foundation here and promote the game in a proper manner. Lets push towards filling stadiums with eager crowds which in itself will bring in much more money to the game but then expansion from a strong base will have much more chance of success.

David Bailey: I am delighted to see the Broncos back in Super League, they have gone about their business quietly despite losing their highly rated coach Andrew Henderson to Warrington before the season started. Danny Ward has gelled the team perfectly.

I think they will have it all on to avoid relegation next season as I think the Wolfpack would have strengthened more effectively.

I think Toronto would have brought more media attention to the league but the Broncos deserve their place. There will be a lot of work to do off the field but hopefully it will all come together and the Broncos can thrive.

Robert Kenyon: It’s good to see them back, they’ve got a good base down in London even at amateur level. I went watching a game between Haydock and Wests Warriors at the stadium where London Skolars play and there were loads of fans at the game, so the fan base is there. There has also been quite a few good quality players come through the ranks at London like our very own Tony Clubb and Dan Sarginson. I’m very sceptical about Toronto, I want to see what they’re all about in five years’ time once the novelty has worn off and whether or not they’ve established roots with juniors teams and home grown players. If they carry on the way they are with having English players training over here and playing in Toronto then it won’t last, the players need to relocate to Canada to make a good go of it, until they do it doesn’t strike me that everyone is fully behind the team.

Are you happy with the current Steve Prescott Man of Steel voting format, or should it be tweaked or changed?

Sean Lawless: I’m disappointed that some players decided to make a bit of a mockery of the award and perhaps Steve Prescott’s legacy by voting for their mates rather than who they think should win. I like that it is a players’ vote, but perhaps a players’ vote from a shortlist of 10 names would be better, rather than allowing people to vote for whoever!

Jon Lyon: In theory the format should work. There should be no higher compliment than being voted the best player by your fellow professionals, but some of the votes have been an embarrassment, and a slur on Steve Prescott’s name.

I don’t think its too much to ask players to take the voting seriously, and while you have to allow the democratic vote and accept people won’t vote for the same three players, voting for the likes of Danny Addy, who hasn’t played a single game this season, is just ridiculous.

Clubs need to give these players a talking to and remind them that the award, and who it is named after, mean an awful lot to this sport, and it is not something they should be blasé about.

Darren Wrudd: Man of Steel, now what does that stand for?

I would have thought that it was about the single player who showed most grit, determination, skill and sheer toughness as the name suggests.

But in whose opinion is that most important, the crowd, the press, the coaches or the players themselves? Perhaps a combination of this and the definition needs some clarification too.

Let’s be honest, Ben Barba is just another Rangi Chase character. A little fancy footwork, a skip here and there and finishing off the other players hard work to score the try is mostly what he has done.

Sky Sports pundits had him nominated from about round three which disrespected the competition as a whole. His defence was poor all year and it is just a try count that has him up there. Poor choice in my eyes.

Now before you get on my back about Cherry and White spectacles, I would have actually given the award to James Roby. Much more deserving and a far better choice than last time he won it.

So all in all I think it’s a great idea for recognition from your peers, but a little shake up in organisation and structure might give it more credibility.

David Bailey: I think it’s great that the votes are published and a lot of players have received criticism for their voting (most notably the player that voted Danny Addy despite him not playing a single game).

That being said, it’s a vote and players have the right to vote for whoever they choose. If it’s a mate, a former team mate, an international team mate, that’s their choice.

It does take a little away from the award, and it doesn’t fit in with the legacy left by Steve Prescott, but there’s little you can do to change it. You have to hope that the majority take it seriously and vote for worthy recipients.

For what it’s worth, although I thought John Bateman deserved it, if you look at rounds 1-23 which it is based on then Barba was probably the stand out player. I’m sure he’d swap it all for a Grand Final ring so hopefully John Bateman will be the one smiling on Saturday night.

Robert Kenyon: I think it should change to a week by week points format. For instance, I coach a team and to make sure I got the correct player for ‘Player of the Year’ I did the following.

Every game I picked the five best player performances from that game and gave them 5, 4, 3, 2 or 1 points respectively. It was very close at the end of the season but the 
right player won, because a player may be the best player in the team for the last few games and snatch it from someone who’s been consistent.

I’d do something similar for Super League much like the Albert Goldthorpe way of doing it as it’s transparent. One stipulation would be anyone who’d ever tested positive for drugs wouldn’t be eligible.