Posts Tagged ‘Brian Noble’

Monday Musings: Worrying Trends Developing at Wigan and Wire

February 23, 2009

After two weeks of Super League (three for some teams) you tend to notice some patterns emerging. No respectable scientist would ever dream of trying to make sweeping judgements based on a data sample of two, but I’m not close to being a respectable scientist and some things appear to be making themselves known at this stage in the season:

  • Reports of Saints’ demise have been greatly exaggerated
  • Leeds have been winning without getting out of second gear
  • The pool of sides fighting out for playoff spots is getting very large, with both Hull sides, Castleford, Wakefield, Huddersfield and Harlequins amongst the sides seeming stronger than last season
  • Wigan and Warrington have both been losing games they really should win

This last point is worrying for both Wigan and Warrinton not just because they have lost all their games so far (only Celtic Crusaders join them at the bottom with zero points) but because of the way in which they have lost. Each case is different, yet both point to flaws which need to be addressed sooner rather than later if this season is to be a success for either of them.

For Wigan, the problem has been losing games against sides that finished below them in the table last season (none of the three sides they have played so far made the playoffs last year) by close margins (their largest margin of defeat so far is eight points). It’s hard to grasp entirely why this is: they have a successful coach and a fair number of decent players. For some reason this season they’ve let in a fair amount of soft tries which ultimately have cost them close games. They’ve also failed to inspire in attack and you have to wonder why they feel the need to bring in so many imports if they’re not going to deliver. Add to this that Wigan’s history makes this probably the most high-pressure coaching job in Super League and you have to think that Brian Noble should be concerned right now. He’s already said that this competition is won in October, not February but you have to be in the playoffs to reach October and at this rate it’s very much a possibility that won’t happen.

For Wire, the problems are even harder to fathom, because for the past two weeks they’ve let a comfortable lead not only slip away in the second half, but get positively blown out of the water. It’s hard to remember a side who have looked so good in the first half before looking so bad in the second, and the Wolves have managed it for the past two weeks running. The fact that they have done so both times in front of the Sky Sports cameras will do James Lowes no favours, who now has to solve the mystery of how his side keep imploding. Second half drop-offs are usually a sign of poor fitness, but in both cases the rot set in at the start of the second half, right after players have had a chance to get their breath back. It all indicates a lack of mental toughness, because in both the last few weeks the Wolves haven’t looked remotely like getting back into once things start going against them.

As far as I’m concerned, this isn’t a good thing. Both Leeds and Saints are far too far ahead of the competition right now, and Wigan and Warrington appeared to be amongst their challengers. If no side steps up this season, we could be left with the third Leeds-Saints Grand Final in a row, and as good as last year’s match was it would be nice to have a change. Both Warrington and Wigan have the chance this week to make amends against sides they should theoretically beat, with Wire away at Wakefield and Wigan away at Quins. Both sides have been losing to sides they should theoretically beat all season, and doing so in the two televised games this weekend could lead to a major upheaval at either club. If either club wants to prove that they’re still worthy of being deemed title contenders, they’ve got the right stage to prove it.

Crystal Ball-watch

Between them, Wigan and Wire have cost me four extra victories in my predictions (I correctly guessed Wire’s implosion against Saints) and it’s their underachievent that’s kept me under fifty percent. The other side to cost me this week were Huddersfield Giants, who fell back down to earth against a resiliant St Helens.  Also frustrating was getting close to the Leeds and Wakefield victory margins. I wish my Quins-Manly prediction was official, because that really wasn’t that far off the reality.

Results: 7/15 (46.7%)

Margins: 1/15 (6.7%)

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All Kinds of Crazy Shit Going On

February 18, 2009

Stupid work, with it’s stupid time consumption. In the last few days some notable things have come up in the game and I haven’t been able to write about them… until now.

Widnes fired Steve McCormack after one competitive game this season. Jesus, that was quick! I feel sorry for McCormack but he was definitely on his last legs at the Vikings. Failure to win either of the NL1 Grand Finals he led them to (not to mention his two other Final defeats with Whitehaven) had left him with a reputation as someone who just couldn’t get over the final hurdle, and with Widnes hoping to make their case for a franchise impenetrable for next time around, losing 22-20 to Oldham in the first game of the Northern Rail Cup (a team in the division below) really wasn’t the best way to start the year.

Brian Noble wants Salary Cap dispensation to sign Rugby Union players. I shouldn’t need to explain why this is just stupid.  The main point I would make is that it would take a shit-load of money to get any reasonable Union player into Super League, and I’m not sure where this would come from, and if it did suddenly become available would probably be better spent on League coaching and grassroots infrastructure. Don’t get me wrong, I would be very interested to see how many international Union players would go in Super League, but why would they leave Union? They would be swapping high-profile media coverage, a regular established international programme and a sport at which they have already proved themselves to be competent (not to mention the increasingly silly wages) for a lower-profile, possibly more demanding sport (it certainly would at least start off more challenging for those without any experience of League). I don’t see what they would stand to gain, and I doubt many of them would turn out to be value for money.

Gareth Ellis needs re-educating on the basics according to Tim Sheens. When you see one of Australia’s top coaches saying this about one of Super League’s top performers over the past few seasons, alarm bells start to go off in your head. I do think that the difference in standards between the NRL and Super League is overstated, and what we see between the competitions is a product of the difference in priorities (defence is paramount in the NRL, which is why it is more tolerant of wrestling at the tackle) but there can be little doubt that the basic standards of skill in Australia do seem natually higher. I hope whoever is in charge of coaching standards at the RFL is taking heed of this, because this sort of thing that drags down England’s international performances.

Wigan Warriors: No shortage of brawn, but is there the brains to mount title challenge?

February 8, 2009

wigan

Wigan have had a relatively turbulent existence in Super League. Entering summer Rugby as the undoubted alpha dogs of the game, they’ve seen that crown slip and with one title in the Super League era they have not lived up to their potential in the same way that St Helens, Bradford and even Leeds have. A few seasons ago their priorities kept getting lower and lower, going from hoping to make the the playoffs to trying to avoid relegation. The Warriors appear to be over that phase now and should be challenging for honours once again this year.

Indeed, the progress that Brian Noble has made in his spell at Wigan is often overlooked. Their run in the 2007 playoffs (including away victories at Bradford and Hull) was thrilling to watch, and they also had a morale-boosting away victory in Catalonia during last year’s effort. For the past two seasons their campaign has ended in honourable defeat to the eventual champions Leeds Rhinos at Headingley. Now there’s no shame in that, but the players must really be getting itchy to reach the Grand Final and it is up to Noble to show that he can lead them there. Finishing higher in the table so they don’t need so many heroic away victories in the playoffs would be a good start.

The key to Wigan’s season will be how they cope with the loss of Trent Barrett. He wasn’t as eye-catching in his second year, but that was because he was under far more scrutiny from defenses, which in turn meant that less pressure was on Thomas Leuluai who had his best year at Wigan yet. Tim Smith is an erratic player, so Leuluai needs to step up the effort. The forwards should do the job in providing go-forward, but they will also need to provide some extra guile. You have to wonder about the creativity of this side no it has lost Barrett (and Mickey Higham). They also need to add an extra dimension through their back three, although the addition of Amos Roberts to Pat Richards and a fully rehabilitated Richie Mathers might just be able to do this.

Wigan have recovered from their Super League lows of a few seasons ago, and this is the year that they need to prove they can hang with the big boys. They have definitely been on an upward curve on the last few seasons,  but now they need to make the transition to A Grand Final victory will undoubtedly be their target (as it should be) but there are question marks as to whether there’s enough outstanding quality in the side to achieve this. They should also be aiming to get back to what used to be their home away from home and usurp their rivals at Saints who have taken their title of cup kings. Wigan are starting to reach the oint where trophyless seasons are a disappointement in themselves again, and there’s only one cure for that…

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And you thought Silly Season was over…

February 3, 2009
How hard could it be?

"Seriously, how hard could it be?" (Getty Images)

Curious news coming out of The Guardian today, with Wigan apparently being linked with a move to bring Eddie Jones to the club in a coaching capacity. Jones, for those who don’t know, was the coach of the Australian Rugby Union side that lost to England in the 2003 World Cup final, was an assistant coach for the South Africa side that won the 2007 tournament, and is currently coach of Guinness Premiership side Saracens.

If you’ve noticed a lack of Rugby League credentials there, then well done Sherlock! Jones has proven to be a winner wherever he’s gone in Union, and he clearly takes an interest in Rugby League as on his watch the ARU signed Wendall Sailor, Mat Rogers and Lote Tuquiri. However, you do have to wonder how much relevant experience he would be able to bring to perhaps the most demanding club job in British Rugby.

There are two main reasons why I find this idea absurd, both of which should be obvious to people with functioning brains (and indeed most of those without). Firstly, Jones has NO experience coaching League to speak of. That makes him an almighty risky proposition, particularly as I doubt Jones woud be coming cheap. Secondly, in case no one else has noticed, Brian Noble is still the coach of Wigan. You know, Brian Noble? Most successful coach in the Super League era? Guided Wigan away from relegation? And then into the playoffs a year later? That one? I know Noble is a fairly one-dimensional coach and there are plenty of reasons to object to his style but I think it’s hard to argue that Wigan haven’t made advances under his tenure, especially considering the hole they were in when he took charge.

Worringly, Ian Lenegan doesn’t appear to be flat-out denying the story, which usually means that there’s something to it. Nonetheless I would be quite surprised if anything came of this. Even so, a sick, twisted part of me wants to see this come off, because I have little doubt it would be entertaining to watch either way.