Shaun Wane's Wigan legacy goes beyond precious metal - but that won't stop him looking to bow out on a high

Interview: For 30 years, Wigan has been Wane's day and his night, his breakfast, lunch and dinner. Now, he's stepping down for a new life

Jonathan Liew
Chief Sports Writer
Friday 12 October 2018 22:32 BST
Shaun Wane is looking to end his time at Wigan
Shaun Wane is looking to end his time at Wigan (Getty)

Shaun Wane isn’t enjoying this. Not one bit.

“This is awkward for me,” he says at one point. “I’m comfortable talking about the team, training, the rugby. I’m out of my comfort zone.”

For once, you see, the Wigan coach is being forced to talk about his least favourite subject: himself.

It’s his last week in the job, the end of a 30-year association with his boyhood club: first as a player, then as a scout, then as an academy coach, and for the last seven years as head coach. He was brought up 200 metres away from what’s now the DW Stadium, first watched them when he was four years of age, signed on at 14. “It’s in the blood,” he says. “I don’t need recognition. I don’t need big fanfares, or things like that. I just need genuine rugby league people to understand I’ve done a decent job.”

Either way, you sense, there will be tears. Victory over Warrington Wolves in Saturday’s Grand Final would be a fitting send-off for a coach who has overseen Wigan’s most successful era since their 1990s heyday. “We’re not going to speak about anything like that,” he cuts in firmly. “It’s a piece of grass, a game of rugby, and it’s about narrowing the focus into what’s going to win us the game. Me leaving and Sam [Tomkins] leaving is not really that important.”

It’s the fifth time in six years he’s led Wigan to Old Trafford, and for the third time Warrington are the opposition. Victory in last weekend’s semi-final over Castleford preserved Wane’s record of winning a trophy or reaching a Grand Final in every season he’s been in charge.

But Wane’s Wigan legacy goes beyond precious metal. It’s about the careers he made, the teams he forged and the young players he blooded: Tomkins, Josh Charnley, Michael McIlorum, George Williams, Joe Burgess, Dom Manfredi, Oliver Gildart. Giving the academy kids a chance, he says, is the most enjoyable part of the job.

Wane has forged an impressive legacy at Wigan that goes beyond precious metal
Wane has forged an impressive legacy at Wigan that goes beyond precious metal (Getty)

All of which raises a very pertinent question: why, exactly, is he leaving? It was a decision that stunned Super League when it was announced in May this year, and nothing in Wane or Wigan’s demeanour since then suggests any downing of tools, any decline in motivation or energy. There have always been vague murmurs about his style of play: structured, uncompromising, not always terribly attractive. Last season, which ended with a disappointing sixth-placed finish, was another black mark against him.

And so, on some level, both club and coach may have felt they had gone as far as they could together. “I just felt like I’d seen my day,” he says now. “Time for change for the club. There’s some players at Wigan who have never been coached by anyone else. So I thought it was time for me to do something else in my life.”

Even so, Wane’s next move – a switch of codes – was another surprise. His friend Gregor Townsend, head coach of Scotland’s rugby union team, has invited him to do one or two days’ work a week, and along with some corporate speaking and the building company that he runs, that should keep him occupied enough for now. Next June, he will allow himself an indulgence he has not enjoyed for 15 years: a summer holiday.

Meanwhile, Wigan are boldly striding into their new era. Former player and Papua New Guinea head coach Adrian Lam will take charge for the 2019 season, with Wigan legend Shaun Edwards taking over in 2020. How will Wane feel waking up on Sunday morning, in the knowledge that his time his up? That his beloved Wigan is now somebody else’s team?

Wane has been associated with the club for 30 years
Wane has been associated with the club for 30 years (Getty)

“I have thought of that, and it’s upsetting,” he says. “It’ll be terrible. Awful. I’m not looking forward to it, but I’ll have to do it. I’m going to keep watching Wigan, keep watching rugby league. These players are my mates. I go to their christenings, their weddings, their birthdays. So when it comes to games, I’ll just be having a pint, enjoying the game like everyone else.”

His best moment in charge? Becoming world club champions against the Cronulla Sharks last year. “To do it in front of our own fans, against a very good team with four times our salary cap…” His worst? Last year’s Challenge Cup final against Hull, a nail-biting 18-14 defeat. “That try disallowed in the last second... that was hard to take.”

But by and large, the memories are happy ones. “When I got the job, I said it was my dream job, and I still feel the same way,” he says. “I think I’ve done OK. I’ve improved the team, we’ve won things. We’ve got some good kids coming through. Our culture’s good. The guys are respectful.”

Above all, you feel that Wane is one of those guys who simply gets Wigan. Who understands its heritage, its ethos, its rapacious lust for trophies and the lofty expectations its fans place on it. For 30 years, it’s been his day and his night, his breakfast, lunch and dinner. “I never thought it would end,” he admits finally. “But I’m glad we’ve ended it this week. To finish at Old Trafford as a winner: that’ll do for me.”

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