Morgan Smithies admits Wigan Warriors’ charge up the Super League table has been fuelled by the urge to prove their critics wrong.
Nine wins from the last 10 matches has seen Wigan climb from ninth on the ladder to level on points with second-placed Warrington - with three rounds to go.
And Smithies says the dressing room has found added motivation after coming under fire from outside for a poor start.
“We spoke about how rocky we were at the start of the season,” he told the Wigan Observer.
“The first goal was to get up into the top five, then fourth, then third, and now the goal is second position.
“It’s something we’ve worked hard for, despite everyone writing us off, and it’s good to prove them wrong.
“We knew what people were saying about us from outside, and it is something you can use as motivation.
“You’ve only got to look round the changing room at the great players and big-game players in there.
“They’ve been there and done it all – most have won a Grand Final.
“As a young player, that gives you a tremendous amount of confidence they’re on your side.”
Smithies, 18, has rocketed on to the scene in recent weeks having been a virtual unknown at the start of the year.
“I did my pre-season with the Under-19s, I only got to train with the first team the week before I made my debut,” acknowledged Smithies, who has since featured in 18 of the last 20 matches.
“Thankfully I’ve managed to stay in there and I’m just trying to keep going.
“I realised what a step up it was during my first game, which was so fast and physical.
“But as the weeks have gone on, I think I’ve found my feet and I’m managing to hold my own.”
Smithies has done more than ‘hold his own’, having stood up to some of the biggest and baddest forwards in Super League without batting an eyelid – making himself a fans’ favourite in the process!
“I’ve always been a physical player who doesn’t take a backward step,” he said.
“It’s not like I’m trying to make a name for myself, I’m just enjoying my rugby and that’s part of my game – getting stuck into them!”
Wigan’s latest victory, over Warrington last Friday, was their first in seven attempts against the top two this term.
It was secured thanks to a first-half display that had Wigan 18-0 up at the break.
“We expected Warrington to come out all guns blazing, and we knew we had to match them in the arm-wrestle,” added Smithies.
“As long as we stuck to our guns, we were confident we’d come out on top.
“They’re a good side, we knew they’d come out fast, and we had to be ready.
“And I think it was won in that first half, when we were really good.”