The 18th Man: How will Warriors kick on when new season kicks off?

Morgan Escare is among the group of players being coached by former England RU kicker Charlie Hodgson
Morgan Escare is among the group of players being coached by former England RU kicker Charlie Hodgson
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Warriors fans answer the burning questions.

Dan Sarginson is back - happy or not?

Jon Lyon: My first thoughts were not happy. I always felt Sarge was just a little too small to be a top class centre. I don’t think anyone could ever question his enthusiasm but defensively I always felt he was a bit of a weak point, and I fear John Bateman will be working overtime to cover for him. I also watched his few NRL appearances and he was extremely poor. That said, I’ll get behind him and hope he proves me wrong, as an England centre, far better judges than I obviously rate him.

Sean Lawless: Sarginson is certainly not the most exciting signing but I think it’s a decent, safe signing. Someone who knows Wigan, who knows the team and someone that, on his day, can really perform. This is a player who took the Four Nations by storm in 2015 let’s not forget. The biggest concern is that his signing is likely to see someone leave, at that point who would be available for Wigan to sign? Decent, proactive business.

Ben Reid: I can’t say I’m overly thrilled with the idea of us bringing back yet another player from Australia. However, at the same time, I’m not going to sit here and bash the guy. Any player who wears that cherry and white jersey will get my full support – but he has a lot to prove to win over the fans.

Sarginson finished his first spell at Wigan on a real high and put in some of his best performances as a Warrior. However, he then went away and flopped big time in the NRL. If he can continue the sort of form he showed in 2016 on his return then I’m sure people will soon forget about his 12-month hiatus, and welcome him back with open arms.

Robert Kenyon: It’s great to have Sarginson back. He’s a quality player who can play all across the back line. He has a great step and he’s a grafter with the right attitude. He also still quite young despite his experience. Though having Sarginson back is great, I hope it isn’t at the expense of another player though, there have been rumours and I hope they are just that. We have a lot of quality in our reserves and under-19s that we had to dip into last year and brought out diamonds. Having Sarginson as an extra or squad/utility role along with Escare, we will win trophies with the quality and depth we have.

David Bailey: Do I believe Wigan wanted Dan Sarginson back?

No, not particularly, but their hand was forced with Anthony Gelling returning to New Zealand on compassionate grounds amongst rumours of him wanting to move back. As yet not a single player that left Wigan to go to the NRL or RU has come back and improved. There’s still hope that Sam Tomkins and Joe Burgess can buck that trend but it’s a bit of a risk with Sarginson.

However with no return date for the Man of the People Wigan look light in the centres and the alternatives are playing Liam Forsyth or one of the back row out of position (Bateman/Isa/Tomkins) which don’t really whet the appetite do they.

Darren Wrudd: I am always happy to see players in a Wigan shirt who really want to commit to the team and what we are all about. I must admit though I was unhappy to see Joe Burgess go after Wigan had just given him his debut season on the big stage and the same really with Sarginson. We invest so much here at Wigan in player development that I do think players need to honour contracts and commitments rather than jump ship as soon as an Aussie club shows half an interest. So I am not sure that coming back to Wigan with your tail between your legs is good enough reason to re-sign a player. I could never fault these lads’ commitment when here so can only hope that they continue to improve and prove valuable to the squad.

What will be the stand-out memory to keep from 2017?

JL: The obvious choice will be the fantastic performance to beat Cronulla to see us crowned World Club Champions for the fourth time. I was apprehensive before the match having seen in particular Cronulla’s defence all last season but Wigan were outstanding from first minute to last. Let’s be honest, it’s always good to beat the Australians to let them know there’s more to rugby league than just the NRL.

SL: My stand out moment will always be watching the Word Club Challenge, sat by Morgan Escare’s family and watching his dad live every moment of the game as if he was playing it. Then at the end of the game, seeing him crying with joy and for a Wigan fan to offer him a handkerchief to wipe his tears. Nothing says Wigan Rugby for me more than that moment.

BR: Becoming World Club Champions! We could have won every trophy on offer last season, and that would still be the clear stand-out for me.

I love how fans of other sides played it down to be not so much – but I just didn’t listen. For me, it was my greatest and most proud moment as a Wigan Warriors fan.

To see my team become the best rugby league club in the world was a tremendous feeling. I can still remember every moment of it now, and I love watching the game back, it’s just brilliant. There’s nothing else that can top that, and we may never win it again – I’m just glad I had the chance to see us win it the once.

RK: Liam Marshall’s face after the Warrington game, I think he floated home that night he was that chuffed. Hats of to him. Four tries in the demolition of Warrington was a great achievement. It was a great year for both him and Tom Davies.

DB: I think finally winning the World club challenge again after so many close calls was the standout. As a kid I remember watching Wigan take on Manly, Penrith and Brisbane four times in about seven years and you kind of take it for granted. Wigan put so much effort into this game after a few close calls and it was brilliant to finally achieve it. Wigan played some of their best rugby when Escare was at full back early on in the season so I am hoping for more of the same when the new season starts.

DW: The World Club Challenge without a doubt was the highlight of the year. For so many reasons from the coach, the squad and back room staff to the owner and upper management, this was huge. My enduring memory of the night was Shaun Wane at the end with his grandson on the pitch. It meant so much to him to win it as coach and was a lovely moment.

What are you happy to see the back of?

JL: For the second season running I’m hoping to see the back of a horrendous injury list. Without wanting to tempt fate, surely we can’t possibly have it so bad for a third year in a row. Considering we were playing games without 10 or 11 first choice players at times we did remarkably well to reach the Challenge Cup Final and only be a couple wins away from making the play off semi finals.

On a lighter note, now Luke Gale has shaved his head I’m also pleased to see the back of the worst disguised receding hairline in rugby league!

SL: I am certainly happy to see the back of the 2017 Super League season as a whole. Castleford, Leeds and Hull winning the silverware is enough to give any Lancastrian nightmares! Time to start again, refreshed with a fit squad, a fit marquee player in the form of Sam Tomkins and let’s see what 2018 brings us.

BR: The 2017 season as a whole. Apart from the jubilation of becoming World Club Champions earlier in the year, it slowly went downhill from there.

It wasn’t the best of years for us, and the topping on the cherry and white cake came when we didn’t even make the top four and missed out on the play offs for the first time since 2006.

If you don’t really follow rugby league and was shown that a side finished sixth, reached a cup final and became World Club Champions, you might just think they’d done alright.

But, as a Wigan fan, player, coach and anyone else associated with the club, we know how high our standards are, and we always expect more than what we got in 2017.

RK: The injury crisis.

DB: Actually I am happy to see the back of the season as a whole. What started out with so much promise just petered out. Wigan marched to the top of the table and won the World Club Challenge all whilst missing key players through injury.

They then navigated their way to Wembley and ensured they kept in the play of places. With players returning to bolster the ranks it was easy to get excited and think Wigan had a chance of everything bar the league leaders shield. But to capitulate and play so poorly when players returned was just shocking.

DW: I suppose most of all I am happy to see the back of that smug smile on Daryl Powell’s face. It’s bad enough watching Luke Gale do his funny walk every time he scores, or the crowing of some of the other players who are not used to winning a few games on the trot. But Powell and his ever so superior attitude really got fans’ backs up and although it may be a first in history, I was really glad that Leeds lifted the title.

Charlie Hodgson is working with the kickers. Have Wigan gone far enough to address the issue?

JL: In an ideal world we would sign a top quality kicker, but that would likely mean releasing someone to make room under the salary cap, so I can understand the reasons this hasn’t happened. Only time will tell if hiring Hodgson has the desired effect. Williams and Escare have showed promise so hopefully this will help them kick on, pardon the pun. I would hope though that if it doesn’t work out then next season we will have planned ahead and made sure we make room to sign a proper goal kicker. It’s too important a role to fill half heartedly.

SL: I think bringing Hodgson in as a kicking consultant is very good, pragmatic thinking from Wigan. The apparent solution was to sign someone who could kick and try to slot them into the team, that was always a solution that Wane seemed keen to avoid. This way, it looks like kicking will get the due attention that it deserves and hopefully in 2018 we will see higher conversion rates from whoever does take on the kicking tee.

BR: The only other thing they can do at this point is to sign an already proven, world class kicker to the squad. I think the appointment of Charlie Hodgson is a brilliant one, and a sign that we’re really working on our kicking game for 2018 – an area that’s cost us a fair few points since we lost Pat Richards. I’ve not seen who Hodgson is working with exactly - but I assume the likes of Escaré, Williams, Burgess and maybe Marshall are amongst the kickers in training. I have however seen a few clips of them in training and so far, so good. It’ll just be a little different out there on the pitch in front of a crowd – only time will tell.

RK: I should think so. Having a reputable kicker like Hodgson, who has kicked goals at the highest level in high pressure situations, teach our team shows we are definitely on the right tracks.

Let’s not forget, Frano Botica worked on his goal kicking to keep his place in the team in the early 90s and Pat Richards had to work on his talents too. Having someone with the steely resolve of Sam Tomkins is the way to go, he thrives with pressure and I think we will be fine on the goal kicking front next year.

I have every faith.

DB: I suppose the only way we will know if Charlie Hodgson’s coaching is successful will be when the season starts. It’s all well and good giving players coaching and skills training but kicking goals on an empty pitch in Orrell is much easier than kicking goals to win matches in front of big crowds. Wigan have got a few players that can kick but one needs to step up and hone their skills as Wigan will never win trophies regularly with such a low percentage of conversions. Needless to say though if this doesn’t work and Wigan are still lagging behind in goalkicking, the clamour for a recognised kicker to be signed will grow louder.

DW: I think the kicking game in modern rugby league is such an important part of the whole match, not just the two points from the kicking tee. Although we have a few lads who can hoof a ball, the strategically placed kick is a psychological thing as much as a physical one.

If Charlie Hodgson can improve the point scoring and perhaps some of the skills that we are desperately missing in the tactical kicking department then he will certainly earn his contract as far as I am concerned.

The big issue is people just wanting to sign a kicker, but who on earth would you displace in the squad as he would have to be a brilliant player first and a kicker second. We have some half decent kickers and with some polish, we should see 
massive improvements this year.