Wigan are back at Old Trafford for the Super League Grand Final after succeeding in replacing the irreplaceable.
Even as the Warriors were winning the title last year there were mutterings that they would find it fiendishly difficult to defend without Sam Tomkins and Pat Richards. But this season has been a triumph for the new boys, whether they be local teenagers like Joe Burgess or star imports from the other side of the world like Matt Bowen.
It is a mark of how far Burgess has come in a short time that when he was called up from the first-team fringes for Wigan’s pre-season train- ing camp he thought he was the victim of a team-mate’s prank. A few months later, the 19-year-old winger is the man whose tries – especially the one that beat Warrington eight days ago – have taken the Warriors back to Old Trafford.
Shaun Wane, the head coach who phoned Burgess to invite him to Florida, admits his progress has exceeded expectations. The late try he scored to beat Warrington was his 24th of the season.
“Yes, he has surprised me. I never expected him to play so many games,” Wane said after that victory. “But he’s a mature kid. He has that cockiness and attitude that you need. He’s an absolute athlete and a credit to the junior coaches who have brought him through.”
Even the disappointed Warrington coach, Tony Smith, was able to share in the admiration for Burgess.
“He’s a fantastic young man,” Smith said. “I love watching him play – except when he’s playing against Warrington.”
Burgess has had a big pair of boots to fill on the Wigan left wing this year, following Richards’ return to Australia after eight prolific seasons. Apart from not kicking goals, he has proved a more than adequate replacement.
Burgess uses his height and strength to good effect, taking the high ball with confidence both in attack and defence, while he also has the pure pace to score from long distance. And his awareness of what is going on around him would be exceptional in any winger, let alone one of 19.
Bowen had arguably an even tougher job in taking over from Tomkins, but his explosive running from deep has more than compensated for the occasional defensive error to which all full-backs are prone.Reuse content