'Why Wigan Warriors need to end the Shaun Edwards saga quickly' - comment

Shaun Edwards posing for pictures at the DW Stadium last August
Shaun Edwards posing for pictures at the DW Stadium last August

Around 6pm last Friday night, Ian Lenagan formally responded to the Shaun Edwards saga through a club-issued statement.

He admitted he only had a handshake deal with him to take over as coach in 2020 – not a written contract – and that Edwards had asked, and been granted, more time to consider his options.

Some may have welcomed his statement. For others, it may have been too little, days too late.

But there was one part which would have had everyone nodding along in agreement – the part about “we need to clear up this situation as quickly as possible.”

Damn right we do. This has now dragged into a second week and now, Wigan have been left looking like the guy who has been told by the girl he fancies that she will go out with him... but only if she can’t find anyone better.

Lenagan wants Edwards as coach. That much is obvious. In the 11 years I’ve known him I can’t recall him being as excited as at the press conference last August when he unveiled him alongside Adrian Lam as Shaun Wane’s successors.

And he thought he had his man.

But Edwards had already hinted of a delayed return home and as soon as the Six Nations finished, he put himself firmly in the shop-window, telling a journalist that he would be "unemployed" after the World Cup and was open to offers.

Three days ago, there was a near-full page interview with him in the Sunday Times.

The journalist who wrote the piece, David Walsh (a sensei of sports writers, for it was he who brought down Lance Armstrong) brushed over his agreement for 2020 with the phrase “there was talk that Edwards would return to Wigan.”

There was more than talk.

Edwards appeared in a Wigan polo T-shirt, posed for pictures, conducted interviews.

He spoke about his ambitions, his intentions, his hopes for Wigan. How he would continue Wane’s legacy of producing home-grown players and target rugby union players.

There was everything you would expect from a prospective coach.

Everything, it seemed, but a written contract. And in that sense, perhaps Walsh had a point – it, literally, was all talk. Maybe a handshake, too.

Yet while Wigan can be accused of acting naively in this process – and Lenagan’s admission he has done business “on many occasions on the basis of an oral agreement over a handshake” caught me by surprise – they have also acted with integrity. There’s no suggestion they wanted to back out.

So what has happened since?

Edwards has helped Wales to a Six Nations title, earned gushing praise and his stock has soared. And, not surprisingly, he has had interest from others.

Wasps have admitted holding talks with him. Wales say they are interested, too, while Edwards has discussed the attraction a job at Twickenham would present... a position many believe he is holding out for.

When Edwards very publicly declared himself a free agent - “I’ll consider all offers, league, union" - I wish Wigan had, at that point, wished him well and said they would look elsewhere.

Instead, they said – in short – they were trying their best to phone him to find out what he wanted to do.

Imagine, for a minute, if this was the other way round. That the parties had a verbal agreement, that they had announced at a press conference, that Edwards was excited and planning to honour it in 2020... and then Wigan went and appointed a different coach. Edwards would, in that situation, have every right to be miffed.

Yes, I know, some will say he has every right to look after No.1. Has every right to change his mind.

And I get that. But it isn't his decision which grates me as much as the way it has played out. I’d argue he would have been better talking to the club, rather than a reporter, about any concerns over a missing, written contract - or if he'd had a change of heart.

Because I honestly believe that had this been handled better, he could have made a U-turn, stayed in union and his reputation among Wigan fans would have remained intact. There would have been disappointment, sure, but much more understanding if it had been managed with more dignity.

Instead, we've been left with this mess, and I've seen some say this will tarnish his legacy. Others have gone further and said it will ruin it completely.

That’s a big call (and also a subjective one... people will have different views). Time is the best healer, and I can’t think of anyone who has spilled more blood for the Wigan club as a player than Shaun Edwards.

It appears highly unlikely he will now serve his hometown club as a coach, although Lenagan has left the door open for him to take over from Lam later this year. If he does, he would have a hard job convincing people it’s what he really wants,

And so it drags on, a sorry circus backdropping the current side's attempts to put their campaign back on track. Has it had an impact? Who knows. But don't tell me players are immune from off-field issues - when Wane announced his resignation last year, Warriors' form nose-dived.

The players, like the fans, deserve some clarity.

We can only guess what will happen next.

And hope it happens soon.