In this week's Talking Rugby League column, Phil Wilkinson considers Wigan's coaching saga, looks ahead to the derby - and salutes Eddie Hemmings
Well, who’d have thought?
It seems Shaun Edwards’ decision to not join Wigan had nothing to do with the absence of a written contract, after all!
Nothing to do with the fact Wigan hadn’t presented him with a deal to put his signature on, as he had suggested just after the Six Nations when his stock was through the roof.
“This is about Wigan Warriors getting the best man for the job which, at the moment, I feel is not me,” he said this week, eight months after being unveiled.
‘At the moment’.
As in, maybe down the line.
Would Wigan fans welcome him? I do wonder. For many, it seems, he has tarnished his reputation – his explanation about being under-prepared would probably have been understood had he not previously put himself in the shop window.
But the more pressing concern is who will coach Wigan in 2020?
If Adrian Lam can pick up their fortunes, and he is open to the idea, I think he should be a great shout.
Yes, they’re 10th, yes they’ve struggled, but hear me out.
They’re not far off – their positive points-difference illustrates the fine-margins – and at their best, they play an attractive style.
He’s also given three academy-graduates debuts at a time when many reasonable fans may cut him some slack for some desperate bad-luck out of his control, in terms of injuries and off-field distractions.
And there are two considerable advantages to giving the role to Lam.
The team took time to adjust to his methods – common at other clubs, too – and bringing in a new face risks another upheaval.
Plus, Wigan may be losing Sean O’Loughlin, Thomas Leuluai and George Williams from their roster for 2020 – which would make it a big challenge for anyone.
If Lam had the role next season, it may make that transition smoother than if another coach was left to deal with it later this year.
It doesn’t matter where they are on the table, they say. Form goes out the window.
Well, that derby cliche will be thoroughly tested tomorrow!
Saints have been flying, Wigan struggling.
Saints are top of the ladder, Wigan in 10th.
Saints have lost only once this year, Wigan have won only three.
And the way Justin Holbrook’s side dismantled a very good Warrington outfit last Friday – at the exact same time the Warriors were imploding in Yorkshire – leaves nobody in any doubt about who will be favourites in the DW derby.
Saints fans have been snapping up the tickets; they smell blood and they want a front-row seat in the coliseum.
Hopefully, Lady Luck will stop giving Wigan the cold shoulder, and we will see some experienced forwards return to the middle.
They already have the strike – their left-edge, in particular, has scored 21 of their 25 tries since Joe Burgess returned to the side – and Sean O’Loughlin, Ben Flower and Joe Greenwood would give the side must more strength.
It sounds silly, given the results, but they are playing some good stuff.
Wigan don’t need to make radical improvements – they just need to cut out the alarming lapses which have blighted many of their matches, not least at Wakefield last Friday (leaking four tries in six minutes... how?!).
Happy to admit when I’m wrong and, on David Fifita, I was way off.
I thought the change to the interchange rule would impact on Wakefield’s big men, like Fifita.
But he powered through 80 minutes against Wigan – a tremendous effort from the prop, who leads the Steve Prescott Man of Steel table.
Was he unfair to call out a “cheap s**t” tackle by Joe Shorrocks on Twitter the next day? I understood why he did it, but I thought it harsh on an 18-year-old, just after he’d made his debut... especially when the RFL’s disciplinary didn’t see the challenge worthy of a ban.
But Super League is much richer and more colourful when stars give their opinions – and I’m glad he’s signed a new three-year deal with Trinity.
Friday’s match will be the last of commentator Eddie Hemmings’ career.
I know he’s had his critics over the years – albeit not as many as Stevo!
All I’ll say is that it’s a tough gig, commentating. Eddie has soundtracked many of Wigan’s greatest moments, Grand Finals, fights, fightbacks... as well as providing soundbites (“It’s wide to West!”) for countless golden Super League and Test moments.
But when I think of Eddie, my first thought isn’t something he said on air, but the way he was when the cameras weren’t rolling at a ClubCall event a few years ago. Remember ClubCall?
That ridiculous gimmick only rugby league could dream up, when a team would choose its play-offs opponents? Hemmings was hosting it, live on TV, in front of a room full of fans.
Only, something had run over – the F1, I think – delaying the live broadcast by around half-an-hour and leaving Hemmings in front of a microphone, in front of a room full of fans.
And I swear, without any preparation at all, he had them all engrossed and entertained with his anecdotes and answering their questions. I realised then how accomplished he was. All the best to him in retirement.