Archive for the ‘Wigan’ Category

St Helens 14 – 10 Wigan Warriors

October 4, 2009

Forget what I said yesterday, this was the best game of the playoffs so far. Historic local rivals, tough forward play, good tries and no shortage of controversy. Top players were at the top of their game and both Sam Tomkins and Kyle Eastmond went head-to-head in what I hope is one of many playoff encounters that we’ll see in years to come. This game was fiercely contested throughout, and went right down to the final minutes. Leeds were obviously hoping that these two sides would wail on each other and they got their wish. This game came down to a few key moments that went St Helens’ way, and that was all they needed to take them past the Warriors.

I tended to agree with most of the calls that the referees had to make (Richards didn’t touch the ball, Long just got the ball on the line) but I really wasn’t sure about the call on Joel Tomkins being put in touch by Sean Long. Obviously, the touch judge believed that the tackle hadn’t been completed when Sean Long put Tomkins’ foot into touch, but I thought that Tomkins had stopped moving and thus the tackle was complete. In many respects though Tomkins got what he deserved because nce the tackle count has been restarted so close to the opposition line, you should be absolutely certain that you can make it down the flank without going into touch. It’s a shame he blotted his report with that moment of madness, because he had a good game overall and it was his peach of an offload that sent George Carmont away brought Wigan back into the game. 

Even so, you can hardly say that Wigan were robbed. They played well and were able to mix in the forwards, but they lacked composure at the crucial times by the Saints goal-line. You could see Sam Tomkins running at the line many times hoping to find support, only to find no one there backing him up. You have to wonder how much of a blow losing Michael McIlorum just before kick-off was, because Mark Riddell didn’t really do much around the ruck and they probably could have done with a change of pace. Wigan were able to match Saints in the middle, and even outmuscle them at time, but they were unable to do anything with it. 

It also didn’t help that Saints were pretty damn good for the most part. Tony Puletua has been probably the import of the season, Sean Long had a fantastic home game at Saints, Paul Wellens had his best game for a while, and what can you say about James Graham? The man is a beast, and if Saints win at Old Trafford next week I expect he will have had a central role in it. Credit is also due to Kyle Eastmond who drifted in and out of the game, but when he was in it led to things like their first try. Saints haven’t been winning pretty over the last few months, but they have at least started winning again. They will probably have be back somewhere approaching their best next week if they hope to beat Leeds, but at this stage it’s hard to rule out that happening.

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Playoff Preview: St Helens vs Wigan Warriors

October 3, 2009

R3_Saints_Wigan

Previous meetings: Saints won two games to one this year, although oddly Wigan have outscored Saints in this year’s meetings due to the beatbown at Murrayfield. Saints have had by far the better of their meetings over the last few years, and haven’t won a Super League game at Knowsley Rd in six years. 

Form: Wigan are red-hot right now, with their battering at Huddersfield the only real blip. St Helens have been, erm… mixed since the Challenge Cup semi-final loss to Huddersfield, and although they did look like they were back at their best for the opening quarter of the playoff game against the Giants, they faded somewhat after that. 

Personnel Concerns: Both sides are at full strength. Saints were a little worried about Matt Gidley and Kieron Cunningham, but obviously that bye-week has been good for them. 

Thoughts: This game is what the playoffs is all about. Former champion side versus great pretenders, and local rivals to boot. I really don’t know what to make of St Helens right now. They’ve been mediocre for a few months now, yet they somehow managed to look like their old selves for a bit against Huddersfield. Then they fell back into bad habits for a bit without actually ever looking like losing. They’re clearly a side in transition. Wigan by contrast have looked good in the playoffs and their win at Craven Park last weekend was no small achievement. 

What is a very big deal about this game is that it is Sean Long’s last game in the red vee at Knowsley Rd, and I imagine he wants to give the fans a worthy send-off. In return I imagine the atmosphere should be something special, which will probably favour the home side. Wigan are also a fairly  young side, and players like Sam Tomkins won’t have played in a game of this magnitude before, although they got preparation for a hostile environment last weekend. 

I’m often a believer in karma in sport, and Saints haven’t been giving off good signals for this lately. In their last few games at the GPW Recruitment Stadium Wigan have come really close to beating Saints, and you have to wonder whether their time has finally come. Add to that the news that Sean Long is doing a book signing on the afternoon of the game, and that he’s been openly talking about rejecting a move to Wigan for next season, and I just wonder if the stars will align against Long and St Helens. This could well be the kind of game where divine intervention matters, because I don’t expect a blowout either way. 

In Conclusion… I really don’t like picking against St Helens, particularly when they’re at home, and it’s hard to argue with their Super League pedigree. With that said, if any side can beat them it’s this Wigan side. Basically, I’m sitting on the fence for this one, which is a sign that this could be the best playoff game we’ve seen in a long time.

Hull KR 16 – 30 Wigan Warriors

September 27, 2009

That’s more like it. A large, raucous crowd; two teams engaged in a tough forward battle; exciting tries from all over the field; players continuing when injured even if they really shouldn’t.This was more like what I expected and hoped from the playoffs. It was a very bizarre game that seemed to be over at half-time as Wigan raced into an 18-0 lead. Credit to Hull KR and Justin Morgan (apparently his half-time hairdryer routine worked)  for making it interesting, because going into the final quarter it was very much anyone’s game again as Hull pulled back three tries. 

Wigan won because they were able to exploit some shoddy defending by Hull KR. You have to wonder how the game would’ve panned out had Michael Dobson not gotten seriously injured early on, because he was targeted mercilessly by Wigan. However he had little to do with the softest try of the game, Iefeta Paleaasena’s ten metre charge though four defenders which could’ve been easily avoided with one more man going low in the tackle. The Robins’ defensive effort in the first simply wasn’t good enough, the Wigan forwards did the damage up the middle, and the ‘Sam Tomkins for England’ bandwagon kept marching on at full speed.

Then early in the second half Jake Webster made a line-break, and the game nearly turned on its head. Webster didn’t have the pace to go all teh way, and no support player was close enough to finish the job straight away, but from the ensuing play-the-ball a sweeping right-to-left passing move (including a beauty of a long pass from Paul Cooke) put Chris Welham over for a try. This led to a dramatic resurgence and tries from Peter Fox and Chaz I’Anson put the Robins a mere two points behind Wigan. Unfortunately for them Martin Gleeson finished off the game with two late tries, although the first one required a visit to the Video Ref. His second try was another lapse in concentration for KR as he waltzed through a massive hole in the defensive line to take Wigan through to the next round.

Like Huddersfield the night before, Hull KR have to be disappointed that a season in which they’ve made so much progress ended this way. However they’ll come back stronger for the experience and they at least put up a very commendable effort to get back into the game. As for Wigan, they’ll be a handful for any side they now come up against, and if it’s a Saints-Wigan derby for a Grand Final place then I think we could be in for a treat.

Playoff Preview: Hull KR vs Wigan Warriors

September 26, 2009

R2_KR_Wigan

Previous Meetings: Both sides won the away game by eight points this season. Since the Robins’ return to the top flight, they’re almost equal. Interestingly, the away side seems to win more often…

Form: Hull KR have lost their last two games straight and not looked particularly energetic in doing so (although both were away games). Wigan won last week against Cas in a game they really should’ve won by more than six points, and apart from an aberration of a collapse at Huddersfield have had a really strong final third of the season. 

Personnel Concerns: Obviously, Chev Walker will be missing from last week’s side for KR. On the plus side, many of the key plays who missed last week’s game (Shaun Briscoe, Ben Galea, Scott Murrell, Jake Webster) should return. Wigan should be the same as last weekend.

Thoughts: KR have looked really flat in attack over the past few weeks, but you have to wonder how much of that was due to missing key players like Briscoe (who went off early in the defeat to Wakefield). Also, it’s hard to know what to make of last week’s loss when most of the damage was done in the final quarter of the game when the Robins were clearly tired and affected by Walker’s horrific injury. It’s possible that the squad will galvanize behind the returning players and a sense of ‘doing it for Chev’. 

They will probably need to, because Wigan aren’t going to be sympathetic. They’ve entered the playoffs in form and looked pretty good against Cas (even though they ended up making life harder for themselves than they needed to). The Wigan prop rotation has really come into its own in the last few weeks, and stopping Iafeta Paleaaesina doing too much damage from the bench will really help the Hull side. The Wigan halves have had far too much time to organize things over the last few months, and Hull will need to knock them off balance. 

In Conclusion… The key in this game is whether Hull KR can regain their attacking spark. If they play flat and lifeless for the third game in a row they will lose because Wigan are strong in the forwards and definitely have the backs to finish the job. Wigan do have all the makings of a side that could get an away win upset, but whether they can actually do this depends on which Hull KR side turn up. If it’s the one which has been outmaneuvered over the last few weeks, then Wigan will definitely fancy their chances. It’s up to KR to front up again.

Wigan Warriors 18 – 12 Castleford Tigers

September 21, 2009

A rather fiery game at the DW Stadium last night, as Wigan held off a spirited Castleford comeback to move on in the Super League playoffs and eliminate the Tigers in the process. A fair number of missed high shots and a lot of hard-hitting drives and tackles meant that this had all the makings of a brutal classic. Wigan undermined that somewhat by cruising out to an 18-0 lead thanks to tries from Harrison Hansen, George Carmont (both assisted by Pat Richards from high-bombs) and Amos Roberts (after nice work by Sam Tomkins). Craig Huby and Joe Westerman scored late on to add a frisson to the final proceedings, and in the end a speculative cross-field kick by Michael Shenton just bounced into touch before Kirk Dixon could get to it, and with it went the Tigers’ hopes of a comeback.

Wigan won this game because of two reasons. Firstly, thier forward pack completely dominated for the most part, especially when Iafeta Paleaaesina and Stuart Fielden came onto the field. Fielden offered stability whilst Feka did his usual cannonball impression, which was exactly what the Warriors needed at the time. Secondly, the Wigan kicking game was superior all night, especially towards Pat Richards who helped contribute to the opening two tries for Wigan. Rather like Wakefield the night before, by the time Castleford found their mojo, it was too late. I won’t lie, my first thought about Wigan’s first try was that George Carmont knocked it on, but Wigan had building building up the pressure and made it pay.

Castleford’s players took too long to get into the game, which was a shame because late on they were playing pretty smoothly. Mitchell Sargent and Craig Huby definitely offered their best go-forward, and the backs often looked good when they got decent service (which unfortunately for them happened far too little). Richard Owen may have just played himself into the England squad with his performance (he’s got to worth looking at in the train-on squad at least). Had Owen not been denied by the tackle of the playoffs from Carmont early on, it might have been a different game. It’s a shame that this young, talented side couldn’t maintain more consistency this season, which showed very much in this game, but it’s been a good learning experience for them, and they should ones to look out for next year. After all, they were a funny bounce of the ball from leveling this game late on. 

As for Wigan, it’ll be interesting to see how they fare away from the DW Stadium. I imagine Craven Park will be a hostile environment next Saturday, but then Hull KR have been fairly weak lately and Wigan could definitely shut the crowd up early. Their forwards have got themselves some push at the minute, their backs have been scoring machines all season, and they have an exciting combination in the halves. They’re a surprisingly youthful side but I don’t think they’ll be overwhelmed by the occasion. If Hull KR aren’t on form then Wigan are more than capable of capitalizing. Even if Hull KR are playing well, Wigan might be able to keep up with them. Either way, it should be fun.

Playoff Preview: Wigan Warriors vs Castleford Tigers

September 20, 2009

R1_Wigan_Cas

Previous Meetings:  They’ve split a game each this season, Cas winning their meeting at the start of the season and Wigan winning a few weeks ago. Both games were close, decided by six points or fewer. These clubs have generally had close encounters over the past few seasons. It’s worth pinting out that Castleford’s best run in the Super League playoffs involved winning at the DW Stadium (then the JJB) in 1999.

Form: Wigan had been in good form until their visit to the Galpharm last week. They will no doubt hope that was an aberration. Conversely, Castleford had been in a mini-slide until they crushed Harlequins and surged past Celtic Crusaders. Even so, the scrappy nature of their win against the bottom side last week isn’t necessarily the lasrgest confidence boost going into this game. 

Thoughts: Of all the potential upsets this weekend, I can’t help but feel that Castleford have the best shot. They’ve got a full strength side, talented players, a smart coach, and they’ve already won at this ground this year. They also have some unfinished business to attend to over their narrow loss a few weeks ago. Castleford won’t be lacking for motivation. 

Nonetheless, Wigan have an interesting statistic going in their favour: Brian Noble has never lost his opening game of a playoff series as a coach. He also happens to be the most successful coach in the Super League playoff era and even if I think it’s unlikely this Wigan side will add to that tally, I do think that his experience will count for something (as will home advantage).

His experience may very well be needed as well to balance out the youthful exuberance that Sam Tomkins will bring to his first playoff series. If Castlefod can get to him and unsettle his nerves, then that might serve as the foundation for a winning gameplan. I’m not sure how many chances the Tigers are going to get, so they will need to execute with precision on the occasions they do get a chance. It’s also worth noting that several of their key players (Michael Shenton, Joe Westerman etc.) are also Super League playoff rookies, although they did win the Nation League One playoffs a few years ago.

In Conclusion… A very tight game to cal, but I think the home advantage may just help sway this Wigan’s favour. I very much doubt either side will manage to blow the other one out of the water, and it may turn out that a rugged forward battle allows some nice tries to be scored. As long as Wigan can show that last week was a mistake, and that the form they’ve been building before that is more reflective of their current state, then they should be okay. If it’s not, then I don’t think Cas will refuse the chance to put them away.

Warrington Wolves 16 – 8 Wigan Warriors

May 22, 2009

Phew. I just need to get my breath back…

That was one of the most intense, physical regular season games I have seen for quite some time. After Wigan pounded away at the Wire line to the point where Warrington didn’t touch the ball for the first tenth of the game, the Wolves regained some composure and began to get a head of steam in the middle of the park where their forwards dominated for much of the night (despite Wigan doing their very best to give as good as they got). In the end this domination down the middle led to openings for Lee Briers, and even though they kept messing up the cross-field kick from midfield (they kept trying this last week as well) they eventually clawed their way back into the game, and tries from Matt King (a cross-field kick into the in-goal), a beauty of a handling movement putting in Chris Riley, and a solo effort from Michael Monaghan proved to be more than enough against a tiring Warriors side, especially as it was backed up by an absolute beasting of a defensive effort. 

I am blown away by what Tony Smith has done at Warrington in such a short span of time. How is this the same time whom I was watching concede 60 points to Harlequins just a few months ago? A blip against Hull KR aside, their defence has changed from ultra-flaky to rock solid, and with their attacking effort still being dangerous (and seemingly less reckless) they’re back on track up the table. Adrian Morley and Gareth Carvell are clearly one of the best propping duos in the league, and they’re now firing and are also ably supported by the likes of Ben Harrison, Ben Westwood and the Anderson brothers. The platform they are laying is at last being exploited by both Lee Briers and Michael Monaghan (who seemed to play much better once he seemed to get concussed). I’m wary of saying it because we’ve been here before, but it’s looking like Warrington are getting their act together. 

Of course, it takes two to tango and Wigan played their part in making this an enthralling game. I was a bit wary of the fact that they only came out of opening the game with eight straight minutes of possession with only a six point lead, but they came close on two other occasions. What really let them down was their forward pack – Stuart Fielden and Andy Coley have been immense during Wigan’s renaissance in the last few weeks but they were simply muscled out of the game. Although I thought Sam Tomkins and Thomas Leuluai both had pretty good games (for a second I thought Tomkins had pulled off a miracle tackle to deny Monaghan, and he wasn’t far off doing it) they simply lacked the attacking spark that had driven their re-emergence as contenders. If Wigan want to crack the top eight, then they need to find it again, and fast. 

You know what the most extraordinary thing about the game was? It was two teams going at each other full-throttle for eighty minutes who aren’t even in the top eight! Admittedly it’s a surprise that these two sides aren’t in the playoffs at this stage, but this is exactly what Super League needs: two sides trying to destroy each other in pursuit of the extended season, playing at maximum intensity in front of a pumped-up crowd (kudos to those at the Halliwell Jones – you definitely played your part in an enthralling spectacle). If teams in the middle of the pack can play like this, just how good should it be when the top teams play each other? I don’t think Warrington will be outside of the playoffs for too much longer, and I’m not yet ruling out Wigan getting there either.

Wigan 38 – 18 St Helens

May 2, 2009

AKA Reversal of Fortune

Like the Bradford-Wakey game earlier in the day, this was a game in which the margin of victory could have been both a lot larger and also a lot smaller. Wigan were comfortably the better side for pretty much the entire duration of the game, but they also denied Saints at rather key intervals during the match just as they looked like they might be sneaking back into it. In the end though, it was a pretty comprehensive victory and one that showed Wigan are still contenders this season, even if they have given away a massive headstart. 

Wigan had all their forwards seemingly peak on the same day, which was a major factor in their victory. Stuart Fielden was on a tear, Andy Coley was a workhorse in the middle, and Feka Pa’aliasena and Gareth Hock caused mayhem whenever they touched the ball. Conversely, there was alarmingly little fight in the Saints pack bar James Graham, who actually seemed to make more of a contribution with his passing game than with his hit-ups. Saints really seemed off the pace and looked laborious and jaded. Wigan absolutely dominated the tackle area, which in turn meant they were able to take advantage out wide; this is a reversal of almost every other Wigan-Saints game in the past 3-4 years.

It also helped that Wigan seemed far more composed. As well as Tim Smith and Thomas Leuluai leading them around the park, Shaun Tomkins came off the bench and again made a massive impact (in defense as well – his cover tackle to prevent Sean Long scoring was one of the turning points of the game, and again reduced the credibility of those who claim he is too small for the pro game). Saints looked flat and flustered for the majority of the game, and for the second week in a row managed to blow about thirty metres of field position on the final tackle. I know there’s a perception that Saints play off-the-cuff, but this has always been launched from a base of solid, calculated play that seems to have vanished in the last few weeks.

The fact that the margin of victory was only 20 points shows that Wigan still have some improvements to make. Compared with the massacres that Saints had inflicted upon them in the past few seasons where it was a non-stop barrage for the whole game, Wigan seemed to take their foot off the accelerator towards the end of the game instead of rubbing it in. Mind you, I suppose 20 points isn’t a too shabby margin of victory. The game (along with the defeat to Bradford) also exposed what might be the major flaw with Saints at the minute: they don’t seem to have that sixth gear when things start going wrong. For all Eddie and Stevo’s talk of ‘beware the Saints’ comeback’ I’m not sure that this particular outfit are that sort. When they tried to up the pace and spread it wide it kept falling apart, either because they knocked it on or because they ran into a defensive brick wall. I still expect Saints to be contesting for a Grand Final spot in October, but I’m now thinking that this season may be closer that first suspected. On today’s performance, it wouldn’t surprise me if Wigan were one of the sides challenging them.

Goulding to Salford

April 14, 2009

In my post on Martin Gleeson earlier, I forgot to bring up one of the forgotten questions about his transfer: what does this mean for Darrell Goulding? Turns out that it means a loan out to Salford for the rest of the season.

Goulding has been seen as a talent ever since he burst onto the stage a few years ago, but since then he’s never really kicked on, partly due to the fact that there have been other players in the way at Wigan. Whether these players are truly worthy of starting in front of a talented, locally produced player is another matter entirely, but with Gleeson coming in it’s now quite clear that Goulding needed to move to get game time, which is quite frankly what he needs more than anything right now.

Salford should be a good fit for him. They’ve got a fair number of experienced heads from whom he will benefit being around (Willie Talau’s not a bad person to talk to about centre-play) as well as a few decent youngsters. He’s also heading to a club that appears to be on an upswing, so he won’t be like being dumped into a black-hole (which is what it would have seemed like a month ago). Indeed, he’s moving to a club that is closing in on his current employers. The experience of actual Super League play is what a player of Goulding’s calibre needs right now to develop his game, and if Salford either tear up Super League on a playoff run from here on in, or they revert to the mediocrity that had defined their season up until a few weeks ago, it will hold Goulding in good stead for the future either way.

The Great Martin Gleeson Saga

April 14, 2009

In having a week from hell, I’ve been unable until now to write about one of the most intriguing stories to emerge this season: Martin Gleeson transferring from Warrington to Wigan. It’s an interesting move in many regards, and I’m still trying to work out who benefits most from this move.

With a lot of the talk around Gleeson, you would think he was finished as a player. This is far from the case: even in the horrific massacre at Quins, Gleeson was by far and away the most potent attacking weapon that the Wolves had. He was one of the few England players at the world cup who seemed to come out of it with any stock left, even impressing somewhat when forced out of position at Stand-Off against the Kiwis in the final group game. He’s still probably a 1st choice centre for the England team, although he’s finally coming under some pressure from the likes of Michael Shenton. There’s little doubt in my mind that Gleeson is a player still with a lot to offer.

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