Talking RL: 'Wigan Warriors still have work to do...'

Wigan have some way to go before they can match Saints
Wigan have some way to go before they can match Saints

Wigan have come a long way. And they’ve a long way still go to.

Their 32-10 loss at St Helens on Friday night was a gauge of their title-credentials, albeit with the sizable asterisk they have three or four senior forwards to return soon.

Saints are a formidable side, and Wigan need to improve to reach the same level.

With seven rounds to go before the play-offs, it is vital they continue the good work of the past few weeks and ensure they head into the play-offs in good form, in good health and in third spot.

Because the way the top-five works, there is a huge advantage to finishing third, rather than fourth or fifth. Indeed, the only difference between second and third is home advantage in their first match – both have the safety net of a second match, should they lose, whereas teams in fourth and fifth face a sudden-death run all the way.

Their home run includes matches against the three sides directly above them – Warrington, Hull FC and Catalans – as well as seemingly-easier fixtures against Hull KR (twice), Wakefield and Castleford.

And as we’ve seen so often this season, it doesn’t take much for the complexion of the ladder to shift considerably.

Australian Blake Austin has been added to the England elite squad, paving the way for him to play for Great Britain.

Opinion is split.

I understand a player can have allegiances to more than one country, which is why I look at each case-by-case.

Pat Richards, for example, was born and raised in Australia but felt a strong tie to Ireland, where his parents were from. I get that.

I get, too, that many other sports use these qualification rules, so why shouldn't the England rugby league team?

But Austin's inclusion is not the same as - say - Ben Stokes playing for England, because the New Zealand-born cricketer has lived here since he was a child (interesting fact; his dad Ged was coach of the Whitehaven side beaten 106-8 by a Wigan side featuring five-try debutant Sam Tomkins in 2008).

Whether you're happy about Austin's inclusion or not, it is in the rules. Nobody is disputing that.

If you have lived in a country for three years you can play via the 'residency rule' - like Maurie Faasavalu and Rangi Chase - and if have a grandparent from that country - like Austin - it is allowed.

But wouldn't it end all debate about overseas players qualifying for a national side if the 'grandparent rule' was changed to a 'parent rule', and the residency rule was extended beyond three years? Who decided it was a 'grandparent' rule in the first place?

Food for thought.

Congratulations to Gareth Hock on a stellar career.

If he wasn't my favourite forward at his peak, he was on the podium. Few others had the range of skills, and the ability to harass defences, like he did.

Before he'd played for Wigan, I remember Mike Gregory saying just how much he tormented the Aussie Schoolboys as an academy international. It was satisfying to see him go on to do that against the Kangaroos in 2006, too - the last time GB or England beat the Green and Gold.

Gaz would be the first to admit he made wrong choices, certainly earlier in his career. But he took responsibility for his errors and learned from them, and he can look back on his career with a great deal of pride and satisfaction.

Good luck to him in his next venture.