'What Wigan Warriors need to address before the play-offs' - the 18th man column
Our 18th man columnists discuss Wigan's form, the Great Britain squad and the visit of Catalans...
Wigan have climbed to second in the table. With two rounds before the play-offs, are there any areas which concern you, or feel need to be addressed?
Sean Lawless: My biggest concern and, to be honest, it’s quite a good concern to have, is when and how do we get the injured players back into the team? Ben Flower, Sean O’Loughlin and Joe Bullock would be players that you’d like to see back into the team should they get fit, but at what expense? Perhaps Liam Byrne would drop from what has become a settled 17, and Romain Navarrete would be another player whose position would be under threat. A nice problem to have though.
Jeanette Lusher: This has truly been one roller-coaster of a season. Early days saw us in the dogfight of relegation then on to the hopes of a top-five spot and now the second league place is ours to lose. Staggering! The Wakefield game was scrappy but it pleases me that we now appear to have the mental toughness and tenacity to grind out a win which we probably wouldn’t have done earlier this season. It troubles me, however, that we are giving away such cheap yardage with stupid penalties and we need to play out our full sets. It would certainly be good if the match referee would clear the ruck area to allow a quick play-the-ball instead of all this lying on and general messing about that we see. Shouting “held” in the tackle would stop all this limb pulling and knee twisting that goes on! Lammy says we have higher levels of play in us and I do believe him, for each week we are gathering momentum and becoming an increasing threat. I feel sure we are saving the very best till last!
Darren Wrudd: With our team sitting in the lofty position of second place it might seem a little presumptuous to say we are lacking anything when viewed from my little seat as a speccie in the West Stand. But I do think we are missing a trick – although it has improved already this year. Our kicking game can really let us down, with other teams using it as a proper attacking or tactical tool, we seem to almost stumble our way past the fifth tackle and hoof it. Call it a gameplan if you like, but I think we are missing an opportunity to really dominate teams so that instead of scraping a win we can hammer them. Just watch the Aussie game and how they end sets, we are leagues behind at the moment and could really take a step forward with some careful thought towards improving this area of our game.
David Bailey: We won’t win the Grand Final with the current last-tackle plays, both in attack and defence. While the Warriors are the current form team, following an impressive run of victories, there’s still improvement required to go all the way. Again at Wakefield, there was still evidence that when either attacking or defending the 20 metre line Wigan need to sharpen up. Conceding tries from soft kicks and failing to get a repeat set when attacking is always a concern when it comes to the pressures of play-off football, and if Lam can fix these two conundrums there’s a very real chance of Wigan regaining their title (which would complete the meltdown currently occurring over Billinge Hill).
Jon Lyon: After winning ten of eleven games it’s hard to find any fault with the team. As Lammy predicted at the start of the season, we are coming good at the right time.
The only thing I can come up with is I suppose we have yet to have a fully dominant 80 minute performance. We have won quite a few games by a narrow martin as opposed to blowing teams away, but with some tight play off games to come I think I would rather we showed our mettle now than won too easily as we head into the run in. As long as we can remain relatively injury free then we have every reason to be optimistic ahead of some huge games to come.
The Great Britain performance squad has been revealed. How do you feel about Lachlan Coote being included? And any Wigan players unlucky to miss out?
Sean Lawless: If I was Liam Farrell I’d be declaring myself for Ireland for the next World Cup! How Farrell can constantly be overlooked from the England and now the GB squad is incredible. It’s not like he brings off-field issues with him to a squad either. I’d be seriously considering switching allegiance...perhaps he could find some Jamaican heritage and represent them in the next World Cup.
Jeanette Lusher: It is saddening that Lachlan Coote and Blake Austin are included as they qualify through family heritage. They are Australian born and bred! What message are we giving the current born and bred British players? No matter how much effort you put in, you will be overlooked or pushed down the pecking order. Undoubtedly we want to win the Tests but not at any price. I would have expected the inclusion of Liam Farrell and Zak Hardaker. Liam is playing exceptionally well and has such international experience. Due to injury he has not endured a lengthy season so he has plenty energy left in the tank! Zak has had a terrific season. He seems settled and has quietly gone about his business of getting back to his best and in my opinion is deserving of a place in the squad.
Darren Wrudd: I have not held back in the past over this matter and my view has not changed. Playing Antipodeans in a Great Britain shirt simply does not sit well. Now I am not sure how far back Coote’s Scottish ancestry goes, or exactly how long Blake Austin drove a British Leyland mini to qualify, but I suppose all the Aussies (except the indigenous population) could be more or less traced back to one crooked British family or another. It is just wrong and the Australian press is loving it.The fact we are keeping two British players out of the squad is a disgrace and I feel for the fringe players who may have felt short-changed. My biggest shock though, and some amount of personal shame comes in the realisation that I actually agree with Garry Schofield on something rugby-related. I may never live that down. Unlucky to miss out on selection in my eyes would be Zak Hardaker and Dan Sarginson. Both have shown enough this year to create a section headache and should be considered for international honours.
David Bailey: Although Coote being included doesn’t sit right with me, I’m more irritated at the Blake Austin inclusion. Make no mistake about it, if these guys fly the nest back to Oz and representative footy comes calling, we won’t see them anywhere near the red, white and blue of GB.I know there are cases in other sports of those not born here representing their country with distinction, but I honestly feel it tarnishes the honour for a lot of players. On the flip side, I’m not sure what Liam Farrell needs to do to earn a place. I know we are blessed with back rowers but it’s just unfathomable as to why he doesn’t get a look-in. The only other notable absentee is Zak Hardaker, who is easily the best British full-back in Super League.I can only assume he is still being punished for his previous indiscretions off the field. I mean, Jamie Shaul... really?
Jon Lyon: I would prefer the team were made up of British born and bred players. I don’t want to see us finally beat the Aussies only to be accused of having a team full of Australian born players, not that the Kangaroos aren’t averse to “pinching” the odd player themselves. However the rules are there and on performances this year then Coote deserves to be in the squad, and having previously nailed his colours to the Scotland mast his selection seems a bit more deserved than that of Blake Austin.
I am staggered Liam Farrell hasn’t been picked. His return to the Wigan team from injury has coincided with our dramatic upturn in form. Surely he is more worthy than Josh Jones and Stevie Ward, both good players but neither in Farrell’s class and Ward has hardly played this year.
Liam Marshall can count himself unlucky as well. He has been on fire for the last couple of months and must be more deserving of a place than McGillvary, Handley or Charnley on recent form. I would also have chosen Zak Hardaker, for me our player of the year so far, ahead of Jamie Shaul and maybe even Sam Tomkins.
What are you expecting from tomorrow’s game with Catalans?
Sean Lawless: Catalans feel like they are already in post-season mode which, considering they could finish in a play off spot, is strange. However, I expect their poor form to continue and Wigan to repeat their performance against them from earlier in the season at the DW. I expect Wigan to post 50 points on Catalans.
Jeanette Lusher: Catalans can be brilliant one minute and utterly abysmal the next. We easily defeated them at the DW in March but, at the Nou Camp, their passionate forwards totally bossed the park. I am expecting this game to be a very convincing victory for the Wigan lads for various reasons.The team is playing at home in front of fans who are getting very excited at the prospect of possibly another Grand Final appearance, while Catalans’ chances of even getting into the top five have all-but disappeared. Our match-day momentum is on the rise with all to play for as we look to secure second place in the league. Catalans do not travel well and the DW fortress is a very daunting place to come to. The ex-Wigan contingent will give their best but our lads have improved week by week and will contain them readily. The victory at Wakefield, our bogey ground, was scrappy but it will have lifted our confidence levels another notch.
Darren Wrudd: Catalans have quite literally nothing to lose. They will come to town and play all their usual cards with Tony Gigot’s tantrums, Kenny Edwards’ bad temper and watch especially for Greg Bird doing anything he can to milk a penalty – did you see that forward flip ? Players like Edwards and Bird will want to finish on a high and be looking to spoil our party with a rough and tough display. I say bring it on. We have developed a committed attitude as this year has gone on, and our lads clearly leave nothing to chance in their efforts to dominate their opponents. It will be tough, Catalans will try to slow the game down, but the last quarter will see us stretch our lead and make a statement running to the business end of the year.
David Bailey: The Warriors have been handed a huge boost with the results of last weekend and their closest rivals for second all coming unstuck. Wigan now need to lay down a marker and go all out against a hugely-inconsistent Catalans side and really put them to the sword. I honestly think Wigan will get a resounding victory which will set them up for a final weekend battle with Castleford, with the prospect of a home play-off game for victory earning them the right to really knock Saints’ season on its head with a semi-final down the road.
Jon Lyon: The way Catalans have been playing, winning only three of their last ten games, it’s hard to see anything other than a convincing Wigan win at the DW. I hope we can use this game to lay down a marker with a dominant attacking display against a shaky Catalans defence. If we start well and our forwards get on top of their pack I would hope we can put on plenty points in the second half. As long as we turn up with the right attitude this should end up a comfortable win. Second place is ours to lose now and we need to keep up our good run of form