Our 18th man columnists look at Austin's inclusion in the England squad and Warriors' form...
How do you feel about Blake Austin’s inclusion in the England ETS?
Darren Wrudd: I think it is totally embarrassing the way we fawn over any Antipodean who once dog-sat an English Setter and so claims his heritage to try and gain a few international games for England. Are we so desperate for any kind of success that we may call our own? It seems we are and it will not do any good for our game in the UK. Which half-back is not going to get a chance to shine on the big stage due to the inclusion of another Aussie? I feel we are once more dooming our sport to be a laughing stock.
It’s bad enough that we are going to eventually have most of the squad based in the NRL but at least let them be English first and foremost.
Robert Kenyon: He shouldn’t be in, he isn’t English. There’s rumours of him looking at going to Parramatta, so if he does there won’t be any debate about him playing for England. It’s a complete joke that every time there’s a decent Aussie or Kiwi playing over in Super League who hasn’t already played for New Zealand or Australia we try and get them to play for us. No, sorry Blake but you’re not English.
Jon Lyon: I’m not a fan of the rule that allows this to happen. Blake may well qualify to play, and may be playing well enough to deserve the call on form, but when we finally beat the Aussies in a series I want it to be with a team of English players. The last thing we need after a long awaited victory is the Aussies claiming we only beat them because we “borrowed” some of their own. With the likes of Widdop, Williams, Lomax, Connor and when fit Luke Gale, are we really that desperate we can’t find a good enough half back pairing?
Jeanette Lusher: Blake Austin qualifies for selection under the current rules so his inclusion is correct. I do however feel that the rules need to change. I want to see English men who have learned their trade in the English game playing for the national side. How gutting must it be for the English players who are pushed down the pecking order in these circumstances when they have worked so very hard and have striven to improve throughout their careers?
Was the Saints result a fair gauge of how far Wigan remain off being a genuine title challenge?
Darren Wrudd: I am afraid so. We will make the play-offs I am sure, but then I fear it will be a steep learning curve. Injuries have blighted us in recent times and this year has seen enough problems on and off the pitch to cancel any dreams of glory. Yet we are still in the mix, still defenders of our title. If we managed to get all of our injured players back onto the field, I could see an upset, but that’s not going to happen and although my heart wants to believe, I just can’t see it happening with our current squad of fit players.
Robert Kenyon: Definitely yes and it’s down to the playing roster and they also have a very good coach. For instance, Saints have good props whereas we are two short. Saints looked comfortable too, but then again they did last year and bottled it when it mattered. We won’t be title contenders until we go out and buy two props ASAP.
Jon Lyon: It’s very hard to gauge how we compare to St Helens at the moment. They have clearly been head and shoulders above everyone else so far this season, but Wigan had been in a decent run of form before the derby.
Our problem, and it was a huge problem, was the lack of forwards available to Adrian Lam. The young lads who came in were outstanding, but Saints’ pack had a huge size and experience advantage, and their win will have surprised no-one.
If we keep up our recent form for the rest of the season and can have most of our pack back fit for the play-offs, I would still feel optimistic in a one off game we could spring a surprise, and what a sweet victory that would be.
Jeanette Lusher: I feel that at full strength we can match any team. Throughout this season injuries have crippled us, no pun intended. I question whether we have ever turned out our top 17 and certainly we have been unable to turn out the same 17 consistently. Starting the game against Saints with the likes of Lockers, Flower, Clubb and Greenwood missing is bad enough but to lose Bullock, Navarette and Burgess during the game was disastrous, so, how could this result possibly be a fair gauge? I have to say that I was very pleased with how the lads gave their all in this match and I definitely feel that the many youngsters in this team will benefit from the experience. I was also impressed with our supporters who sang their hearts out for the lads.
Confident Wigan will beat Wakefield?
Darren Wrudd: Not really. I mean we should have the beating of Wakefield and home advantage is certainly a factor. But we have sporadic bursts of confident play when the ball sticks and everything works, then the other side of the coin sees us disjointed, out of shape and looking a tired out group of lads who don’t seem as fit as the other teams are. I know how hard our team plays, how much they put into training, but unless we stay focussed and manage our energy during each game, we could struggle to beat any of the teams above us in the table whilst scraping past some of the others.
Robert Kenyon: So, so. They are apparently missing Fafita but have other decent props who are good for Wakefield, we will have a makeshift group of props and I know our lads will do their best, I think that’s where we will come up short, in the front row.
We have a fantastic back line who are clicking but like I said, Wakefield have a good pack and a good coach so will hit us where we are weakest and that’s in the front row.
Jon Lyon: Another tough call. Based on recent form we should be nothing but confident of a win. The loss of Bullock added to those already missing, and with Navarette and Clubb unlikely to be fully fit means we face a huge test to contain Wakefield’s hefty set of forwards. If we can spread the ball wide then we should have enough skill and pace to see us home.
I’ve no doubt Smithies, Partington et al will do us proud once again but this period is putting a lot of pressure on the youngsters physically and mentally, and they need looking after.
Jeanette Lusher: This game will be a very tough one! It’s a four pointer for either side for we want to keep our place in the top five and Wakefield desperately want to avoid slipping into the relegation zone! Our team is somewhat under strength and very reliant on the youngsters putting in a top match.
We need to return to basics and put in a solid performance. We have home advantage but will also need good discipline, excellent defence and a terrific kicking game to secure the win. The lads also need the 18th Man to be in top form!
Jackson Hastings has drawn level with Austin in the race to become the 2019 Steve Prescott Man of Steel. Have the judges got it right? Have they been the two stand-out players so far?
Darren Wrudd: Difficult to say really as I don’t see every game, but we do watch every televised game and from those, the both of them would be up there with the best of them.
It would be nice to see one or two of the forwards recognised, Liam Watts has been impressive as has Remi Casty, but neither will get a proper look in when points go to the playmakers rather than those who make most impact for their team in a given game. Time will tell how this format works out and for sure both Hastings and Austin are worthy leaders in the rankings so far.
Robert Kenyon: I’d say so yes, by far. Austin ran away with it at the start of the year but seems to be curtailing, Hastings is top drawer and is getting better. I’d put money on Hastings to win it. It’s a lot better the way they do the voting now than it used to be.
Jon Lyon: Both have played well for their respective teams, but have probably not yet put in a fully dominant 80 minute performance.
Austin in particular has shone in some of Warrington’s easier games, and had good cameo moments in others but hasn’t quite matched the hype he arrived with.
The best player in the league by quite a way this season has been, it pains me to say, Lachlan Coote.
To think he came as a safer but far less exciting option to Ben Barba. How he has proved everyone wrong. He has taken the league by storm and is a huge reason Saints sit at the top of the table.
Jeanette Lusher: Half backs understandably catch the judge’s eye for they are the link between the forwards and the backs.
They put out the passes, set up the tries and take on the line. However, for me, a Man of Steel should always be a forward.
We all know that forwards win matches.
The best half back in the world will struggle behind a beaten pack. I feel that Liam Watts lying in third place is more worthy.