The 18th man column: ‘Will we go out with a bang or a fizzle?’

Frank-Paul Nuuausala takes a ball in against Hull FC
Frank-Paul Nuuausala takes a ball in against Hull FC

Our 18th man columnists give their thoughts on Wembley defeat and look ahead to the crunch derby at St Helens...

It just wasn’t to be last week!

Wigan fans at Wembley

Wigan fans at Wembley

I didn’t think we were far off, but we were beaten by the better side on the day – which made the loss a little easier to take.

It was a good game of rugby league and, after forcing myself to watch it back later, it was one of the better cup finals that we’ve seen at the new Wembley.

However, there is still frustration inside, knowing that even though Hull were the better side, we could and probably should have won it.

If the game went for another five minutes – I think we would’ve won it.

Sneyd absolutely kicked us the death last Saturday, and he was head and shoulders above anyone else on the field – but only because we let him.

The first try set our stall for the day as Liam Marshall was out-jumped and Hull scored.

From that moment, I knew they’d target that side.

I felt for Marshall throughout, as he was chucked into the deep end following Davies’ late withdrawal and he just didn’t seem right all afternoon.

It was his first game at Wembley and his first major final, but it was far from his fault that we lost that game.

It’s the first time I’ve ever tasted defeat at Wembley, and it was a different feeling from losing the Grand Final.

However, it still a horrible feeling, and one that I’ve only just shook off.

I think what helped was knowing that as you read this I’d be in a real sunny location on my jollies for two weeks.

I don’t think we could’ve asked for a better game to bounce back with than Saints away.

It’s going to be tough, no doubt. But, they have had an extra week off and that may suit us better – even though we lost a big cup final in our last game.

We’ve another four cup finals to come now. So, Wembley needs to be forgotten now and replaced with Old Trafford.

I think Wigan will get the job done tomorrow – which would send Sky into a frenzy as they won’t be able to have Ben Barba on the screen post-game.

I’d like to finish this little contribution with a huge good luck to the Wigan Under-19s in their Academy Grand Final this Sunday at the DW Stadium – get our trophy back boys!

Ben Reid

I should have known things were not going well when the executive coach we booked was swapped at the last minute for a ‘less executive’ version with the air con on the blink.

So a noisy and hot trip down to London was not the best start to the day but, still full of hope, we took our seats and awaited the pre-game entertainment. We need not have bothered as there really was none. The two songs pre kick-off were the usual which I always enjoy but, other than a choir trying to perform with a dire sound system and a walk around the pitch by some young teams, this jewel in the crown of rugby league competitions was let down badly, and I am not surprised the crowd is getting lower each year.

Perhaps coupled to that would be the seemingly unjust decisions made throughout these big games. Too many 50-50 calls are one-sided and video ref calls are simply wrong.

A Sinfield knock-on that wasn’t cost us a Grand Final, now a Clubb try that everyone knows was a try (even Lee Radford) cost us a Challenge Cup.

The game has been well-documented, of course, with much said about our lack of finishing plays. But if we are honest – except for a handful of games – we have been saying that for the last couple of years.

Sparks of brilliance keep us on the edge of our seats, wondering what individual skills will bring us this week but, unless we begin to perform like a cohesive team in attack, we will not win too many trophies for a while yet.

Sometimes we look like we have got it right and slick movement across the field creates chances, but then poor kicks, poor choices or simply being tackled with the ball in hand on the last leaves us starved of chances, and relieves the pressure off our opponents.

How many times was Sneyd troubled on the last tackle, and how much room did he have to play – there is the difference.

Defence is a totally different matter, as the energy and commitment to stopping our opponents progress is impressive with young bodies on the line throughout the game. Well-drilled and structured, coupled with good scramble, it needs a special play or a momentary lapse to break us down.

That said, to stay with Hull for the game and keep the margin tight shows how close we are to getting it right, and it is only a matter of structure in our attacking line which will resolve the issues.

A confident team will stand deep and give themselves room to play, so the onrushing defenders cannot trouble the kicker, a well thought-out and executed kick does not need to attack the line every time, but if it puts pressure on, we can build set on set. Sounds simple, I know, but rugby league is a simple game.

This week is a real statement of intent. Are we going to go out with a bang or a fizzle? St Helens have had a week off and will be rested, while our lads will be hurting from the Wembley loss. Anything could happen, I just could not call it.

Darren Wrudd

The pinnacle of the season ended in a mildly anti-climactic fashion. What I’m sure was a thrilling game for the neutral was in the end a disappointment for Wigan fans. The performances from the last two weeks had given me raised expectations.

I was neither over-confident nor cocky about our chances, but had that quiet feeling that we’ve been here before and can pull it off again.

Sadly it was not to be.

Our attack was not as fluent as last week, and our defence not as solid as the week before, but then we were not playing Salford or Huddersfield.

The current Hull team has few weaknesses and, off the back of a very good kicking game, even if those fifth-play bombs are becoming a bit boring to watch, they dominated position and possession for the most part. Only in the final 15 minutes did Wigan really come to life and start to throw the ball around with some purpose.

It would be nigh on impossible to talk about the game without reference to refereeing decisions and, while they may have cost us some points, had we won it would have been undeserved overall.

I will never be convinced by James Child’s reasoning about the ball steal from Tony Clubb as he crossed the line.

It was clear as day to me, and it’s a shame for Clubby after all he has had to endure over the last two years, he deserved his moment of glory.

I have the utmost sympathy for young Liam Marshall. Thrown into the side at the last minute, he has been slated on social media for his performance.

To be fair, he was up against Feleti Talanoa, who is taller, and therefore it’s hard to blame Marshall for being outjumped.

Maybe Gelling should have moved out to the wing for those crossfield kicks. Also caught out for a Hull 40/20 and slipping while trying to gather another kick, Marshall seemed to have taken these mistakes to heart, in floods of tears as he climbed the Wembley steps for his medal.

Sadly it happens – just ask Nathan Graham who was destroyed by Bobbie Goulding’s high kicks in the 1996 Challenge Cup Final.

Hopefully Liam can focus more on his excellent performances earlier in the year and come back all the stronger for this experience.

Despite the result the day was an enjoyable one. The supporters mixed in the Fan Zone outside the stadium with good humour and a mutual respect. The long, long drive home was improved by our hilarious coach driver, Joe, who showed a clean set of tyres to the Wembley stewards trying to make him wait before leaving...not a chance!

Jon Lyon

I have to admit, I have written and rewritten this several times, and I am still unsure as to whether I am disappointed at losing such a close game, whether I am upset at the decisions that seemingly went against us, happy that despite not playing well we ran Hull so close, or annoyed that the performance simply wasn’t there again!

Despite no club having a divine right to win everything, you just can’t help but expect more from Wigan.

Anyway, back to the write-up. The Warriors fell short at Wembley as Hull FC secured back to back Challenge Cups for the first time in their history. Marc Sneyd clinched the Lance Todd Trophy for the second year running but, to be honest, they could have specifically given it to his left foot as that was the deciding factor on the day.

Not only converting all three of his kicks to make the difference on the scoreboard, but his tactical kicking led to two tries directly, plus a 40/20 which set up the third. Maybe I’m doing a disservice to Hull’s powerful wing combination, as Talanoa and Fonua were always a threat under the high kick.

Wigan, well, as has been the case so often this season were right in it until the last and, had George Williams managed to direct his flick pass backwards at the end, we could be looking at a different story.

That’s without mentioning what was, in my opinion, the head scratching decision over Clubb’s try/no try. I can get that he didn’t ground it initially. But to say it was a loose carry when he’s on the try line in the act of scoring with one of three defenders actually touching the ball?

Any other part of the pitch and that’s a penalty all day long. That would never ever be given as a knock-on in open field.

That being said, hand on heart, the Warriors didn’t deserve to win the cup. I think even the most die-hard fan would acknowledge that. I’m not liking the “scape goating” mentality seen by some either.

Whether that be Wigan’s apparently clueless attack with fans targeting Tommy Leuluai or Liam Marshall for criticism. I mean come on, he’s a young lad, had the crushing disappointment of knowing he was missing out on the final which would test the mentality of even senior pros, then all of a sudden poor Davies is out and Marshall is thrust into the fray.

Yes they are professionals but he’s still learning. He needed his centre and the other senior players to boost his confidence and keep talking to him. I can imagine Wembley is a soul-destroying place when you’re under pressure, and I can imagine he wanted the ground to open up and swallow him.

The Warriors now go into last-chance saloon in the play-offs, and this week gives Wigan the biggest test they could possibly ever have.

Saints, away, with marquee signing Ben Barba ready to shine, and with both teams sat on 27 points just one off the coveted fourth place. This will really test the players’ mental and physical strength to the limits, and I can’t wait.

Finally, while I mention mental and physical strength, I don’t think you can look any further than watching young Jack Johnson leading the team out on Saturday.

It was really inspiring to see, having been in hospital the week before he battled and fought to see his heroes at Wembley, rugby is just a game at the end of the day, but it means so much to so many. It’s easy to forget that the players will be just as gutted as the fans, and it’s about time people started supporting again.

David Bailey

Errors and poor attack lost us the game – our kicking game wasn’t the best, neither was our goalkicking, and that proved the ultimate difference on the score board.

Tony Clubb’s try was a try, but it shouldn’t be down to a ref’s decision not going out way – we have enough class and experience in the team to have won that game and, out of it, yet again I think our attack needs to improve.

All in all I still think we concentrate too much energy on our defence, that our attack suffers because of it. That and maybe a too simplistic way of attacking, and that is why in previous weeks I have called for someone to be employed to focus on our attack.

Our ball handling and errors were atrocious, and I’m not sure whether that’s due to the occasion or poor practice.

Saying that, our error count and ball handling hasn’t been the best for the last few weeks. I don’t want to sound like a moaner, but I want to see us play good rugby, I don’t want to watch 13 wrestlers every week.

We have a very talented back line, but I don’t think they’re being utilised for their attacking skills, which is a massive shame as it’s costing us games and trophies. Things need to improve with our attack and quickly.

This week we play Saints who will be buoyed with the debut of their season-saviour Ben Barba, who joined because he’d had a brush with the NRL authorities. He’s been at Saints for a while now, but let’s hope he hasn’t gelled, and also he’s been out for a while, so let’s hope Barba isn’t as sharp as it’ll be a close shave to make the play-offs if we lose. If Saints win and we’re pipped to fourth, we won’t make the semis.

We may have lost at Wembley, but the team can redeem themselves with a win at Saints. All is not lost, the season isn’t over yet. We can, as tough as it may be, still win the big one.

Robert Kenyon