Talking RL: 'In terms of annoying Wigan Warriors fans, the Sky's the limit..'

Phil Wilkinson gives his take on the final round, Sky's fixture switch, the Coach of the Year and Wigan's £1.4m loss...
Wigan's game tonight was switched with less than a week's noticeWigan's game tonight was switched with less than a week's notice
Wigan's game tonight was switched with less than a week's notice

So maybe we didn’t need the Super-8s concept to ensure every minute matters.

This weekend, the regular Super League campaign reaches a climax with Wigan aiming to secure second spot - but at risk of slipping to fourth.

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Most teams have reasons to win. Castleford need to win to secure a play-offs spot.

Meanwhile, at the other end, four teams are on 20 points and two of them, London and Wakefield, play each other.

All the indicators suggests Wigan’s game against Castleford will deliver... it’s just a shame so many may miss out on watching it live after it was switched to Thursday night - with less than a week’s notice.

Yes, I know Sky Sports pays a lot of money to televise Super League. You get into bed with them, they may steal the covers every now and again. I get that.

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But to move a game at such short notice is treating fans with disdain.

And the annoyance and inconvenience could have been easily avoided - or, at least, limited - with better communication, by making it crystal clear way in advance that the final round would only be confirmed at late-notice.

Anyway, the upshot is it clears Friday night, and allows fans to sit and watch the relegation scrap unfold. It should be a fascinating final round.

Morgan Smithies has been shortlisted for Super League’s Young Player of the Year.

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Admittedly, I’ve seen more of Wigan than anyone this year but in my view, he would be a worthy recipient.

He’s 18, he’s played long minutes at the coal-face of the game, stood up to some intimidating grizzled veterans and been a big factor in Wigan retaining their consistency when Sean O’Loughlin has been absent.

But I’ll say this; there’s some talent on the shortlist. Matty Lees, Jake Trueman and the Leeds duo, Harry Newman and Jack Walker, are great to watch. And a big indicator of the talent coming through is by looking at the players who didn’t make the shortlist... not least Wigan’s Ollie Partington.

So we know the shortlist for the Young Player, but what about the Coach of the Year?

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The award is picked by the coaches themselves, and I imagine they - like us, in suggesting winners - measure achievement against expectation.

Justin Holbrook would be an obvious contender, for guiding St Helens to the top of the league in such emphatic fashion. Ian Watson, too, may be in the frame; I never expected Salford to be mixing it in the top-five, especially after the mid-season loss of Robert Lui to Leeds.

But I imagine Danny Ward will take the honour, even if London are relegated.

I was among the many who thought they may struggle to win more than a couple of games this year with the squad they have got.

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But Ward’s side have won 10 matches including some impressive scalps, such as St Helens - twice - Wigan, and Leeds at Headingley, and enriched the competition. And they’ve not only exceeded many forecasts, but they’ve done it with style and a smile.

Bevan French has only started two matches. I’ve already seen enough to convince me he could be a sensation for Wigan.

It wasn’t the fact he scored a hat-trick on Friday night, but the way he created two of the tries, pinballing through defenders with strength, acceleration and a lethal step. What class.

It can take Aussie recruits time to settle. Even the great Pat Richards took a while to find his feet.

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And if French gets even better, Wigan have a player on their hand.

Ian Lenagan has never shied away from the fact he wants Wigan to break even or, better, make a profit.

And I think many would agree it’s far healthier for clubs to be self-sufficient rather than reliant on hand-outs from rich owners.

I admired the Warriors for taking matches to Sydney - part of the club’s history has been pushing the envelope - but they contributed towards the club losing £1.4m last year.

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Wigan made it clear in advance they hoped to make a profit from the venture, but the report says “the attendance for the Sydney game was significantly below budget (leading to) a disappointing financial outcome.”

Honestly, I thought the near-19,000 gate was pretty good for a friendly!

Either way, I believe Wigan’s expected loss for this season is significantly lower, and more in line with more recent seasons.

And with Jackson Hastings and George Burgess joining French at the club in 2020 - and ticket prices either frozen or cut – it’s easy to be optimistic they’ll return to profit in the very near-future.