Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Warriors Fall To Saints Loss

After an experimental Warriors squad suffered a narrow loss away to Championship side Leigh Centurions last Sunday, Wigan continued their pre-season schedule with a short trip to face fierce rivals St Helens at Langtree Park.

In the first meeting between the sides since the 2014 Grand Final which was soured by Ben Flower's dismissal and ruled him out of this game, both sides named strong squads with the new Super League season just on the horizon.

Despite being billed as a 'friendly', clashes between the sides usually quite fierce and this was apparent in the early exchanges as a melee broke out after a strong first tackle from the chasing Wigan pack.

St Helens attacked well and came close to an opening try inside three minutes when a well-worked move saw Mark Percival held up over the Wigan line before Wigan utilised their next possession to force the Saints into a goal-line dropout.

However, a mistake from the Warriors gave St Helens good field position which they used to good effect in the 10th minute when a high kick from Travis Burns caused chaos for Joe Burgess whose failure to collect gave the home side a scrum close to the Wigan line. St Helens utilised the scrum with James Roby finding Joe Greenwood who crossed for the first try of the afternoon followed by a successful conversion from Tommy Makinson for 6-0.

The ball changed hands in a flurry due to a number of knock-ons and penalties before Wigan tried to create a move down the right but a stray pass from Ryan Hampshire glided into the arms of Jordan Turner who in turn found wing partner Adam Swift who dashed over for the Saints second try. Tommy Makinson failed to convert from the touchline as the St Helens opened up a 10-0 lead after 21 minutes.

Wigan's attempts to reduce the deficit began to leave gaps in the line which nearly proved to be costly in the 27th minute when Makinson looked to have crossed for a try with his textbook one handed touchdown but had the effort denied due to being in touch in the process. However, it didn't take long for St Helens to extend their lead as a well-worked passing move allowed Swift to gain significant yards before a cross-field move resulted in an easy score for Atelea Vea which Makinson added to with a conversion for 16-0.

As the final seconds of the first half ticked down, Wigan fell further behind as a quick passing move allowed Tommy Makinson to find space and cross for a try which he then converted to give Wigan a mountain to climb in the second half with the score at 22-0.

Wigan need a huge turnaround in the second half to prevent a humiliating defeat and kicked off their comeback just six minutes into the second half as a kick from Matty Smith found the path of Josh Charnley who found support in Connor Farrell who in turn picked out John Bateman who crossed for the Warriors first try in front of a jubilant East Terrace. Matty Smith converted the effort and put Wigan on the board at 22-6.

The Warriors began to threaten the Saints defence far more than in the first half and reduced the deficit further just before the hour mark as a George Williams grubber kick forced a dropout which allowed Wigan to advance towards the try line. Connor Farrell looked to gain yards and despite being challenged by a trio of Saints defenders, powered over the line for a superb try. Matty Smith maintained his record with the boot to make it 22-12.

Wigan continued to battle back into the game but were caught out by a clever move from the Saints who looked to have sealed the victory when Joe Greenwood crossed for his second try of the game and with Tommy Makinson converting, St Helens led 28-12 with ten minutes remaining.

St Helens held on for the win but in pre-season the result is secondary despite the rivalry with the biggest positive from a Wigan perspective being a good run out for players ahead of what will be a tough Super League campaign.

Highlights from the game can be seen in the accompanying video from my 'Out and About' feature series.

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Kay Treble Stuns Warriors


After success for the Wigan Warriors Select XII at London Skolars on Friday, Wigan Warriors began their pre-season campaign with a tough local derby against neighbours Leigh Centurions on Sunday afternoon at Leigh Sports Village.

In front of a crowd of 4,125, Wigan fielded a squad of 24 players which included senior debuts for Academy starlets Oliver Gildart, Jake Shorrocks, Rob Lever and Kyle Shelford while new signings Larne Patrick and Taulima Tautai both began their Wigan careers.

A cagey start from both sides included a mini-brawl in the seventh minute which saw no repercussions to the relief of both sides and despite fielding a fair number of young players from the start it was the Warriors who opened the scoring in the 15th minute.

Clever play from deputising centre Joel Tomkins saw him find wing partner Josh Charnley out wide resulting in the Warriors number two crossing for a textbook try in the corner but one which left Matty Smith with a tough conversion attempt from the touchline. Smith narrowly missed leaving the Warriors with a slim lead at 4-0.

Leigh responded well to going behind and soon took the lead with a move down the left side that saw Tom Armstrong pass out wide to Liam Kay who raced over for the Centurions' first try which was added to by a superb conversion from Ryan Brierley for 6-4.

A dangerous high-kick from Leigh on 35 minutes caused trouble for Warriors fullback Ryan Hampshire who was unable to collect and allowed Liam Kay to cross for his second try of the afternoon which was converted by Ryan Brierley for a 12-4 lead going into half-time.

Wigan made a number of formation changes with Matt Bowen and Jake Shorrocks coming on while Ryan Hampshire moved into the halves and the switches paid dividends just six minutes into the half as Bowen's high kick out wide found the welcoming grasp of deputising centre Joe Burgess who touched down for the try. Ryan Hampshire attempted to convert but saw his effort narrowly miss with the score at 12-8.

Leigh's lead came to an end just five minutes later with Ryan Hampshire influential again as a pass from Jake Shorrocks unleashed his half-back partner who raced through the Centurions defence to score a fine try and went one better as he converted his own score for a 14-12 lead.

However, Leigh were not finished yet and had the last say on the outcome in the 74th minute as a final tackle drive saw Liam Kay complete his hat-trick and with Ben Renyolds converting for 18-14, Leigh had secured a famous victory.

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

A New Era in 2015 for Wigan?

A new year and season means a new title for the blog and in keeping with the topic of 2015 - I have chosen to re-name as 'A New Era in 2015'. The first post of this year is an article about how Wigan will adapt this season and various changes in the post-season both good and bad.

The countdown to the new Super League season is on and for many teams there is the impetus to improve on last season which is a focus for Wigan after an memorable end to 2014 for all the wrong reasons.

Some 'experts' have rated the Warriors best hopes for 2015 are to finish in fourth while others see a return to Old Trafford in October and a potential rematch of the 2014 Grand Final against St Helens but as a Warrior myself, the focus is on how the new structure will affect the team and performance in 2015.

Usually, the post-season at Wigan features an array of exits normally with players returning home to the NRL but this year has seen a break from that tradition with only two exits in the form of mercurial half-back Blake Green who leaves the number six shirt with a huge reputation while Eddy Pettybourne departed recently due to personal reasons.

Both performed superbly last season and will be missed in the side by both players and fans alike but the winds of change have seen some real prospects come into the squad with the notable duo of Taulima Tautai (Wakefield) and Larne Patrick who arrives on loan from Huddersfield in a swap for Jack Hughes with both massive deals for the club after being highly rated last season.

Aside from Jack Hughes moving north to the Giants for 2015, loans have dominated the exits from the DW with the only permanent deal seeing Darrell Goulding sign for Hull KR where he will be joined for a year by Greg Burke while Scott Taylor moves to Salford and Sam Hopkins continues his learning curve at Leigh.

Wigan's biggest positive in terms signings has to be the extension of inspirational captain Sean O'Loughlin's stay on the playing field which will be a huge boost for 2015 after a mixed 2014 raised doubts of retirement. Sean's commitment to the club is second to none and the '13' shirt would not be the same had he chose to move into coaching  rather than to continue the stellar skill of try assists with the derby pass to Dan Sarginson, a stand-out moment of last season.

Returning to the earlier topic of going home, Lee Mossop returns to grace the Cherry and White after a short stay in the NRL with Parramatta which was curtailed by injuries but his return could signal to him being be a real star for Wigan this year going forward.

In the forwards, Wigan are flush this season despite the recent departure of Gil Dudson to Widnes and the suspension of Ben Flower until April after his Old Trafford indiscretion as the aforementioned trio of signings join a youthful group that includes Dom Crosby, Ryan Sutton, Tony Clubb and John Bateman among others.

Youth is a topic that last season led to many negative predictions for Wigan which were stunningly rubbished as the Warriors prevailed several times in tough games thanks to some superb performances from previously unknown gems such as Joe Burgess and George Williams who have both been rewarded for a great 2014 with the number five and six shirts respectively.

As 2015 is heralded as the beginning of a new era of Rugby League, at Wigan the mix of budding youth and experience should make for a great assault on re-claiming the Challenge Cup and Super League titles of 2013.

The season begins with a trip to Widnes and Wigan will be eager to right the wrongs of the last meeting which ended a woeful season on the road of which a huge turnaround will be a primary focus for 2015 but which 13 players launch the season for the Warriors?

As the pre-season programme begins this weekend, little is known of the new structure that Shaun Wane has devised for 2015 but in my view the best starting side at the moment has to be spearheaded by a familiar back five.

The halves is a topic of discussion among many fans with the 2015 six and seven the current favourites to make the starting lineup with Ryan Hampshire and Sam Powell vying for places on the bench.

A squad boasting an array of forwards will give Shaun Wane a headache for the opening game with the new signings sure to be in contention alongside the upcoming Academy stars with Dom Crosby awarded the number eight after Scott Taylor's exit with Taulima Tautai my tip to deputise in Ben Flower's absence.
                                                         Crosby                     Tautai
                                                        J.Tomkins                   Farrell

Of course, my selection is based on last season's setup and may change as the pre-season programme continues but the headache hopefully makes for a good 2015 for the Cherry and Whites but what do you think?