Our 18th Man Columnists on half-back options, England and classy Cas’
Sam Tomkins remaining at full-back, Morgan Escare switching to the halves - happy with the ploy?
Sean Lawless: The way that Wigan have played, what is now being referred to as the “switcharoo”, has altered quite a bit in the early parts of the season. This seems to be working well and gives Wigan an advantage over their opposition - as to when they switch happens and now, when it does, who goes where. Having the standard replacement hooker coming on at 30 minutes and off at 60 minutes is predictable and in the recent seasons, we have seen Wigan’s performances drop off over this period. I think this a great move by Wigan and keeps lots of options available
David Bailey: It’s hard to be too critical when the coach’s decision gets the job done. I appreciate that Wane wanted to test out options in a real game scenario, because training as a squad or against the academy just doesn’t have the same intensity. One of my key criticisms of the Warriors last season was that they didn’t have a “Plan B” and it seems this is one way of addressing the situation. That being said, Escare was lively but his defence left a lot to be desired which is unusual considering he has impressed defensively at full-back since his arrival. Personally I think Sam Tomkins can have an influence wherever he plays and although he put in a stellar performance at full-back, I feel Escare is best utilised at full-back so it’s not a ploy I’d want repeating too often.
Darren Wrudd: The two positions of full-back and half are quite similar these days, so often one is suitable for both roles and as I have said previously, I am not a great fan of switching pivotal roles mid-game. That said, I have been most surprised that it has worked so well this year so far. I will be more than happy though for Tomkins to remain at full-back. I think it is by far his best position and he adds such value as an attacking runner, sliding into the line or breaking through on the return. I hear some criticise him for letting the wingers help with the returns, but if it keeps him fresh it’s a good tactic. Morgan I think could be good in the halves, but to have him and George on the field together might really limit the structure of our game. Time will tell as we see how it unfolds, but it sounds good to me.
Jon Lyon: I think Sam benefitted from staying at full-back for the full game, and after a ropy start he definitely grew into the game more as it went on. I don’t yet see Escare as having the tactical nous to play in the halves. He has a tendency to just ship the ball along the line, without drawing a man, which often loses any overlap advantage we have created. Morgan is more dangerous coming into the line from full-back, but so is Sam, so it may be a case of one or the other instead of trying to wedge them both into the team.
Robert Kenyon: If I’m brutally honest, Sam is doing okay but Escare poses more of a threat attacking wise. Add to that Sam Powell, George Williams and Thomas Leuluai are doing well in their positions. We are trying to crow bar Escare into the team and make it work alongside Sam Tomkins. I’d either move Sam to scrum half or drop him, based on current form. Not because Sam is doing anything wrong, it’s just Escare is a lot more dangerous and playing well. But so is Powell so I wouldn’t want drop him at the expense of fitting Sam in. It’s a tough one.
Were there any inclusions of/omissions from the England elite training squad surprise you?
Sean Lawless: I do think the England squad is a half-hearted attempt by Wayne Bennett with the only exciting change being Tom Johnstone. How Kevin Brown can still be considered an international half-back is beyond me. We have Lomax who deserves his place in the squad, most probably as a full-back, when he has played the season in the halves. Sam Tomkins, overlooked again but has recorded five try assists so far this season, more than any other English full-back whilst Kevin Brown has zero assists and zero tries.
David Bailey: I think from a Wigan perspective the omissions of Davies and Gildart seem to make me wonder what they have to do to be recognised. The Elite Squad only has two recognised centres and Wayne Bennett refused to use one of them in the World Cup. However both have been given a chance by being called into the England Knights squad. Many are speaking of Sam Tomkins’ exclusion but I don’t think he will get his place back until he has a settled position at Wigan. I can’t say that I am too upset though as Wigan will need him fully fit come the business end of the season to be in with a shout of silverware. Elsewhere I am surprised Richie Myler didn’t get a shot as he has impressed at Leeds this season despite many peoples reservations of him replacing Danny McGuire.
Darren Wrudd: Having a close look at the Elite England Squad I can only see one player who I would have probably omitted from a recall. Jonny Lomax I don’t think adds much in the way of class to the squad and there are better full-backs out there. Scott Grix deserves a real chance as he has been a fabulous player for years and been overlooked. The rest I think really deserve their places but I would perhaps have added Adam Swift from Saints, Danny Houghton from Hull and our own Tony Clubb to mix things up a little.
Jon Lyon: For once no, I totally agree with the squad. I don’t think anyone can have any complaints about being left out, Sam Tomkins included. I’m glad to see Tom Johnstone in there, who definitely deserves a chance. I just hope he’s given some game time ahead of Ryan Hall and Jermaine McGillvary, as we already know what they can do. Mark Percival should also be given his well earned centre spot and lets see what John Bateman can do for England in his proper role at second row.
Robert Kenyon: I’d have liked to have seen Oliver Gildart picked for the senior side. He is pure class and improves every week. I would like to know why Bennett hasn’t been picking Liam Farrell, the Ginger Pearl and RLs answer to Paul Scholes, who is all class and a joy to watch. He does the little things right, runs good lines with a good work rate.
Also I’m really impressed with the squad that Paul Anderson has picked for the England Knights as he has chosen Tom Davies, Gildart, Ryan Sutton and Sam Powell, the latter two really underrated. It will be good to see how they go on at international level especially Davies and Gildart, two players with the potential to be starters for England for the next five years plus if they can step up.
What are your hopes for Sunday’s trip to Castleford and with Joel Tomkins fit, which player should miss out?
Sean Lawless: Sunday is another barometer for Wigan’s season, how good are they? They passed their first test of the season last Sunday against the unbeaten Wakefield Trinity but away at Castleford is an opportunity to prove that Wigan are a team to take seriously in 2018. Joel Tomkins has had a good start to the season and I think Navarrette will be the one to miss out on Sunday for Tomkins which is unfortunate, as he needs more than one opportunity. However, I think the plan will be to play Navarrette and Hamlin pre-Easter against Huddersfield and rest a few bodies for St Helens.
David Bailey: Castleford away is always a tough ask for the Warriors. There seems to be a lot of ill feeling between the clubs both on and off the field, there’s definitely no love lost between the two coaches, or sets of fans. Cas used to celebrate victories against Wigan with a team photo and that’s before mentioning the Challenge Cup final in 1970 where Wigan’s Colin Tyrer had his jaw broken in what many believe was a deliberate attack, or the infamous Kelvin Skerrett “tackle” that coined the infamous Mick Morgan line – “I Can’t Speyk you bottleless get.” I would hope that Wigan can put together an 80 minute performance because I think they will need to in order to have any chance of beating the Tigers. Ordinarily I’d see Tomkins as a direct replacement for Willie Isa however he doesn’t deserve to be dropped on the back of his performance against Wakefield. I feel Navarette may miss out but if I were the coach I would let Joel Tomkins have another week to get fitter and perhaps motivate him to train that bit harder to earn his place back.
Darren Wrudd: I expect a win and I won’t be happy unless we do. Castleford had a good 2017 and you don’t go sour overnight – so they will be a huge threat. We are a different team this year, same faces but singing a different tune and we won’t just lie down and capitulate. This will be a great step towards the top of the table and only a superb performance will do. With Joel back in the frame I think that the player to be left out should be decided on fitness. If someone is carrying a knock, let them rest it off as it’s a long season and care now will pay dividends.
Jon Lyon: I am cautiously optimistic for Sunday. I keep thinking surely we can’t keep starting games so slowly. We certainly can’t expect to give Castleford the sort of lead we gave Widnes and Warrington and still have a chance. Joel Tomkins has started the season well and I expect him to slot back into the second row, with Willie Isa moving to the bench probably in place of Navarette. Romain did reasonably well against Wakefield and deserves another chance in the team, but away at Castleford. I think Wane will likely go with experience.
Our left edge certainly needs to be better organised as it was pretty leaky against Wakefield, which is surprising as Williams and Farrell especially are excellent one on one defenders, but we seemed to be caught short for numbers there time and again on Sunday. Castleford have started the season reasonably well without looking anything like the team they were last year. Clearly the softer pitches are affecting their expansive game plan, so it’s probably good to play them this early in the season.
If we can improve our basic passing and handling skills, which have at times been appalling this season, then I think the way we have finished games strongly will see us home. I’ll go for a 24-20 win.
Robert Kenyon: It’s a tough one.
Joel has been playing well but so have the others. Maybe at a push Romain Navarrette just so our pack is a little bit more mobile as it’s Castelford on Sunday.
A very slick team and I don’t want three props on the bench.