Wigan shrug off Easter slog to set Super League pace
Despite injuries and a tough schedule Warriors are showing signs the glory days could be back
Dave Hadfield was a schoolboy convert to rugby league, the game which, one way or another, has dominated his life ever since. After working for newspapers in Shropshire and Blackpool (where he covered the fortunes of Blackpool Borough) he travelled the world, working mainly in Hong Kong and Sydney. He became The Independent's rugby league man in 1990 and has written five books on the game and broadcast extensively for Sky and the BBC. Dave played his last game at the age of 53 and would have set up a try if anyone could have been bothered supporting his break. When not writing about the sport, he now limits himself to a bit of tick and pass with his local club, the Bolton Mets. Family includes supporters - of varying degrees of dedication - of Salford, Wigan, Sheffield Eagles and St George Illawarra.
Tuesday 02 April 2013
Super League has a problem with Easter – unless your name is Wigan.
Amid the annual griping over playing two games in four days, the Warriors went to Hull KR on Monday and registered their biggest win in the history of the competition – 84-6 over a Rovers outfit who seemed to have conceded in advance that they could not win.
It suggests that Wigan have a different mind-set from the rest this season, particularly when their ultra-demanding coach, Shaun Wane, says that he is "gutted" that his side conceded even one try on Humberside. That is setting the bar very high indeed. "I wouldn't say they've surprised me," says Wane of Wigan's table-topping form so far. "I was always very confident about the ability in the squad."
That was the case even when they lost five of their most experienced players this winter, with the likes of George Carmont, Jeff Lima and Brett Finch all leaving. "A lot of people wrote us off and, to be honest, we've used that for motivation," Wane says.
When Wigan dominated the game 20 years ago, it was with a squad that clearly had more depth and quality than anyone else's. You could not say that about the 2013 vintage, especially after the departure of the gifted but troubled Gareth Hock and injuries to no fewer than half a dozen front-rowers.
With proven stars like Sam Tomkins and Josh Charnley already in the side, a new tranche of young players, headed by Liam Farrell, has stepped up to the mark. "He's one we all knew would make it, because the preparation and the work he puts in is just the best," his coach says.
If anyone had the right to complain about their resources being stretched over Easter, it probably was still Wigan. Instead, they went quietly about their business, beating their biggest rivals, St Helens, on Good Friday and then going on the rampage on an even better Monday.
So, not surprisingly, Wane is having no truck with the argument that the extra workload once a season is intolerable. "I'm happy with the Easter programme the way it is," he says. "It's traditional in Britain. It's the way it's been for years and I wouldn't want anyone interfering with it."
For a diametrically opposed view of the Easter structure, you can lend an ear to the Widnes coach, Denis Betts, who described preparing players for two games in such quick succession as "close to cruelty".
He added: "Easter has been part of my life since I can remember, but I think we have to look at it now and say that it's not working. The reality now is that the game is even more physical." Whereas Wane urges other coaches to have more faith in their young players, Betts feels that that choice was taken out of his hands when he had to throw in a number of young reserves.
"I didn't put them in because I wanted to see them play," he says. "I put them in because I didn't have anyone else. Sometimes you have to let go of the past and drive the game forward."
Despite Betts embracing the cause, the loudest voices calling for a restructuring are Australian; even though their countrymen, who play the most demanding brand of rugby league in the world, often play for their clubs twice in 48 or even 24 hours.
Nobody seemed to be dreading the double dip this year quite as much as the Hull KR coach Craig Sandercock. Despite a morale-boosting victory over their rivals, Hull, across the city on Good Friday, he never gave off the vibe that a line-up minus various injured and rested players could perform on Monday.
The result is that any momentum they were building has been dissipated and Rovers' loyal fans are entitled to ask whether this was really the best team and the best performance they could expect. If the answer is no, they may point the finger at the busy Easter schedule.
But Shaun Wane, the coach of the squad that is simultaneously the most stretched and the most successful in Super League, is not playing the blame game, only the winning game at the moment and it could bring the glory days back to Wigan.
Wigan Warriors: Three stars so far
Liam Farrell A famous name, if a distant relation. Farrell's consistently excellent form this season has softened the impact of letting Gareth Hock go.
Jack Hughes Eyebrows were raised when he was given the No 4 shirt this season, but he has thrived playing both at centre and at second row.
Dom Crosby Perhaps the eighth-choice prop at the start of the campaign, he has come into his own over the Easter programme.
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