The 18th Man column: 'The award for Wigan Warriors' most improved player goes to...'

Warriors fans at Hull FC
Warriors fans at Hull FC

Our 18th Man columnists discuss Wigan's most improved player, the club's Kiwi contingent and tomorrow's clash with Hull KR...

If you were picking a player to receive a “Most improved...” award at Wigan this season, who would it be?

Robert Kenyon: Sam Powell, without a shadow of a doubt. He always worked hard in defence and had that side of his game nailed, but since his injury lay-off and working under Lam he has improved massively in the hooking role.

It’s refreshing to see him scoot and play with his head up, I’ll be honest I was critical of Powell’s attacking play, but it’s improved massively and he deserves to be recognised for it.

I understand players get told to play a certain way and for us fans we might get frustrated at that player because we don’t know they are under that instruction. Either way he looks to be playing his best rugby under Lam, and out of all the players he has improved the most.

Darren Wrudd: Several years ago, while sat at the pre- season dinner, I asked Kris Radlinski what the club saw in this young lad who was receiving his jersey on the stage.

He stared back and asked: ‘Really ?’ with an incredulous look.

Shows what I know eh! Sam Powell was a rough diamond who was thrown in the deep end when McIllorum was injured, and had to stand up and get better. He did. With constant improvement it seems each year brings him on until this year I can see a future captain in him.

He has grown beyond the potential the club saw in him and developed into a fully rounded professional who any team would love to have in the squad.

His work rate is awesome and his understanding of the game has blossomed making him a threat which slips under the radar of many opponents.

Best improver for the last three years in my eyes.

Sean Lawless: Most improved player has to be Sam Powell, even the improvement that has been seen within the season has been remarkable.

He now offers a running threat from dummy half which he and Wigan both lacked. A great competitor and my player of the year so far, but by far the most improved player.

Jon Lyon: The young forwards who have come in – Smithies, Partington and Byrne – have all improved significantly the more game time they have had, and look to be exciting prospects for the present as well as future.

The player who has surprised me the most is Chris Hankinson. Signed in the middle of an injury crisis last year, he did well when he was picked, considering the step up he made from Swinton Lions, but I would never have thought he would be selected if we were full strength.

This season he has improved that much that I feel sorry for him he’s not a first choice centre alongside Gildart.

His defence has vastly improved and he seems to have developed a good understanding with Liam Marshall. His goal kicking has also been a useful weapon for us. Despite Jake Bibby joining us next year, I would like to see Hankinson get a proper run of games from now on, we seem a better balanced side with him in the team.

Tommy Leuluai has been hailed one of the club’s greatest overseas players. To narrow it down – who’s your favourite Kiwi to play for Wigan?

Robert Kenyon: I don’t know if I’m cheating here as this player never played for the Kiwis, but my favourite was born and raised in Auckland, I think he is the perfect all round player and the most complete centre I’ve ever watched and consistent with it.

Plus he’s a lovely bloke who’s a family man, it would have to be George Carmont.

I seriously wish we could clone him and have four of him, two to play centre and two as back up.

Darren Wrudd: I am not sure I can answer this question with a favourite as there have been so many and I love the fire and biff they can bring to a side.

Going back to Graeme West is a good place to start, and he would certainly be up there with the best of them, but Frano Botica the points machine certainly earned a place in our hearts too.

More recently Feka Paleaaesina was and still is one of the nicest blokes in rugby league, while Craig Smith was one of the most professional in his overall approach.

But as a favourite goes, it really is very difficult to look past Tommy Leuluai, and the fans recognise they are fortunate enough to be watching a legend of our club in action while we still can.

I was thrilled when I heard he had signed another year to play, and hope that in the fullness of time he will be recognised by the club as one of our greatest players.

Sean Lawless: My favourite Kiwi has to be George Carmont, although I guess he did represent Samoa. Carmont was an 8/10 every week, he guaranteed you tries and created plenty of tries for Pat Richards. The most underrated Super League player that has played for Wigan but also my favourite import.

Jon Lyon: Doc Murray... no, not really!

Since I started watching Wigan in 1985 we have been blessed with some great Kiwis. West, Shelford, the Iro brothers, Botica, Panapa, Paul, Smith, and Tommy, all of whom have made a huge contribution to our club, but the best of them all would be Dean Bell.

Mean Dean was as tough a player as I have ever seen, often playing with injuries that would sideline a mere mortal.

I recall a documentary about Wigan and Orrell RU that showed Bell coming off the pitch with a huge split lip, looking like he’d been attacked by a shark, and the doctor just threw a dozen stitches into it with no anesthetic and back on to the field he went.

He was more than tough though, a great leader, scorer of plenty tries, an exemplary and punishing defender and a proper centre when it came to creating tries for his winger too. Quite rightly a Hall of Fame member.

Hull KR tomorrow night - what are you predicting?

Robert Kenyon: This is the first of five games which is winnable which could potentially see us finish second, as long as we beat Warrington and their injuries and Challenge Cup final appearance distracts them. Hull KR won’t just roll over and they play some very attractive rugby, I think it will be a Wigan win and a very enjoyable game.

Darren Wrudd: We need to keep some consistency in our game, and what better way to do so than another good home win?

Hull KR will arrive full of confidence after a great win against Castleford last time out, and for sure they are a real threat.

But I wonder if some new blood in the squad with Flower, Greenwood and possibly French all set to figure, will give a boost and lift the energy levels enough to put the Robins fire out. I could see a Wigan win by 18 points, but I would say that wouldn’t I?

Sean Lawless: I guess tomorrow night is the perfect barometer of Wigan’s season. A close game at Hull KR followed by a blow out victory a few weeks ago perhaps shows the improvement in Wigan. However, the test for them will be can they match that standard again tomorrow.

I am excited to see Bevan French and see what he can offer to the attack. I am expecting another big Wigan victory.

Jon Lyon: A much tougher game than the league table may suggest. It’s exciting to play them as we haven’t done so in nearly a month now! Hull KR have recently beaten Leeds away from home and last week came back from 12 points down to beat Castleford by a golden point drop goal.

Their defence has much improved under Tony Smith and they are still battling to avoid relegation.

Our own defence was exceptional against Hull and – although we have lost our captain – Ben Flower and Joe Greenwood could come in to bolster an already on form pack. The question is, will Bevan French be on the bench?

If our forwards can dominate as they have been doing we should have more than enough pace and creativity in our backline to win, but it won’t be as easy as the 52-10 the last time we met.