'Zak Hardaker has been Wigan Warriors' player of the season so far'

Zak Hardaker
Zak Hardaker

Our 18th man columnists discuss Wigan's season so far - and nominate their player of the year so far...

Adrian Lam graded Wigan’s season so far as a C-, what grade would you give them?

Robert Kenyon: E - Effort shown physically in patches but lacked resilience, easily distracted by off-field events and lack of concentration. Must do better.

Jon Lyon: Overall I would say that grade is about fair. At first I was edging towards a D. However, when you look at the injuries we have suffered, and the fact we haven’t been able to put out a consistent team at all this year, it’s only fair to take this into account.

Results haven’t been what were expected, but the team have battled hard in most games, grinding out some tough wins against the likes of Castleford and twice against Salford that could easily have been lost. As long as that desire to work is there then there is hope if we can ever get the same team out two weeks in a row.

Jeanette Lusher: A grade C- looking at our position in Super League seems a fair appraisal, but I would be inclined to be more generous when you consider that with the exception of Saints, Wolves and the Dragons away our other losses have not been heavy defeats.

Also consideration must be given to circumstances such as the loss of Bateman, Tomkins and Sutton, the settling in of new players and a new coach, the introduction of academy products and of course, our horrendous injuries!

My grade would therefore be a B- and looking to improve in application, attitude and consistency.

Darren Wrudd: I think personally Adrian Lam has got it pretty much spot on with that assessment.

Consistency is what we have lacked and, if we cast our minds back over the year so far, how many times have we seen flashes of brilliance only to be let down with poor handling, poor defence, need I go on...?

I know injuries have given us a mountain to climb but adversity often brings the best out of players but we have just not done it so far.

We can I suppose only talk of potential for so long, then it becomes under-achievement. Having not reached anywhere near our potential, our season is fading away in front of us and will need some real grit to get back where we should be.

If you were to pick a Wigan player of the season so far, who would it be and why?

Robert Kenyon: Zak Hardaker for his effort and consistency more than anything.

After so long out of the game his effort and class hasn’t diminished, he just needs to keep on with his match fitness and by the season’s end he should be back to his normal best.

With a decent pre-season under his belt next season he could be in the running for Man of Steel again, he just needs to get back to his Castleford weight and fitness levels.

Jon Lyon: Morgan Smithies has done really well since coming into the side and looks a great prospect, and Oli Gildart has been a good attacking threat for us so far this year, but the best player, by far for me, has been Zak Hardaker.

Considering how long he’s been out of the game he has been in great form. It is unfair of us to immediately expect the rampaging Hardaker of Leeds and Castleford days when he has new systems to get used to and match fitness to build.

He has been solid under the high ball, is starting to come into the line more now the team are getting used to Lammy’s new attacking ideas and calls, and I’ve lost count of the number of sensational one on one last-ditch tackles he’s made on or over the line to save tries.

Jeanette Lusher: It would be Tommy Leuluai for me. Tommy is a force to be reckoned with at both scrum-half and hooker.

His size certainly belies his strength and capability. He tightens our defence up the middle and he is so tenacious. I commend him for the minutes he puts in at his age and he has certainly put his hand up even when injured this season.

True to say he has slowed in pace but his competitiveness, experience and enthusiasm are qualities we need especially when we have youngsters in the team.

Darren Wrudd: Zak Hardaker has been good this year, with a lot to prove he has just got his head down and played the game. He is fitting in now and I look forward to seeing him develop as the year goes on. But the outstanding player for me is Oliver Gildart.

He has been sublime at times and given his all with the effort he has shown.

The side-step is bamboozling some defenders in front of him and he does so much to get us going forward. I like Gilly and hope he continues his form for the rest of the year.

If you could make one change selection-wise – with the available players – what would it be?

Robert Kenyon: I’d stop all the messing about changing the 17 each week and playing players out of position. I understand everyone gets injured but, in my opinion if we need a winger, then go and give the next winger in line from the academy a game.

It’s a shame Joe Brown has left, he may have come in handy to play in place of Davies/Manfredi and Marshall. Same goes for hookers and scrum halves, we have Amir Burough, Ryan Forshaw and Harry Smith to play there, why play an injured/recovering/heavily strapped Jarrod Sammut from the bench?

In short I’d stick with the same team and dip into the reserves if needs be and keep things simple for now.

Jon Lyon: Liam Farrell should be straight back in the team, and I would play him on the left in the second row. Whether Greenwood is fit or not, I don’t think his form has been good enough to shuffle Faz over to the right. Farrell has, for years, forged a great partnership with Williams and Gildart on the left and that’s where we need him most. His defence has also been missed.

Jeanette Lusher: I would be giving Morgan Smithies the loose forward role as much as possible.

I really like what I see with this young man. He is never deterred and he gives 100 per cent in a game.

He reminds me of a young John Bateman in that he shows no reverence to big named opposition and certainly knows how to get under their skin and cause irritation. Morgan has a brilliant array of skills in both attack and defence and reads a game really well.

His temperament and maturity are excellent for such a young man. Game time now in trying times will definitely see him reap the benefit in his future career.

Darren Wrudd: Without a doubt I would give Escare a chance to run in the halves for a few weeks. Slotting him here there and everywhere is all well and good as injuries bite and the little utility back adapts to fill in, but we are not getting the best from him and are seriously lacking in the halves.

His energy can lift the team and the speed he brings can be devastating when he runs at a tired defence. He deserves a shot and I would give him a month to show what he has got.

Wigan’s next five games are against other teams in the bottom half of the ladder (Hull KR, Leeds, Huddersfield, Salford, Hull KR) – how many do you expect Wigan to win?

Robert Kenyon: Hull KR is winnable especially while they are in a bit of turmoil with Tim Sheens going, as is Leeds unless they get a new coach before then. Huddersfield can turn it on as they showed at Anfield, while Salford are a decent team. And with the rumours surrounding Jackson Hastings, he’s going to want to have a good game so that game against us becomes more difficult, and back to Hull KR which again is winnable. I predict a minimum of three wins from five and that is achievable, if not then the season is over I’m afraid.

Jon Lyon: Every one of these games is winnable, in theory. That certainly should be what we are aiming for, although is hardly a given from what has happened so far this season. Huddersfield have picked up recently and I expect this to be the toughest game of the five.

With Faz, Leuluai, Powell and Marshall set to return we need to be optimistic, I’m going for four out of five wins with us losing narrowly to the Giants, anything less than that and we can kiss our slim play-off hopes goodbye.

Jeanette Lusher: It’s a real dogfight in the lower-table positions! For all of the teams involved, each of these fixtures are four-pointers. I think we are going to see some real tough and rugged matches ground out and I feel defence must be the key.

We certainly have to win the next two games to not only take us up the league and increase our confidence, but to also apply further future pressure on Hull KR and Leeds. Huddersfield away is a huge task as they can play some cracking rugby if given the opportunity, and we really do need to be on top of our game for 80 minutes to be in with a chance of victory.

If at this stage we have three wins in the bag then the return home should give us the edge against Salford.

In theory, if we can overcome them away as we have done on three occasions then surely we can sort it at home. The Hull KR return fixture should be the icing on the cake as we hopefully get into the top five. The season starts afresh on Sunday and it’s all to play for.

Darren Wrudd: If we don’t win at least four of those five I will be disappointed. Each opponent on their day will be a challenge, but we should be well up to it and if we really are going to put a late run on for a top-five spot, then this is it. If we don’t decide to step up and take points from these games, then relegation is a real danger.

But if we play like we know we can, it is not beyond the realms of belief that we could salvage a season with a defence of our title in October.