Posts Tagged ‘Wigan Warriors’

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.

ClubCall Running Diary

September 27, 2009

1.23pm Turn on Sky Sports News. Would you believe it, there’s an interview with Wigan legend Andy Farrell, talking about his new role on the backroom staff at Saracens. In a complete reversal of the usual order, Farrell is asked in a Union piece what he thinks about Super League’s latest new innovation. He diplomatically answers “It’s got people talking” which is certainly true, because I can’t remember Sky Sports News putting this much effort into a Super League story since… hmm… the London Broncos / Harlequins changeover?

1.26pm An ad break. Oh joy. The first ad is some OTT thing for the Heineken Cup. Have there been any adverts for the SL playoffs? I can’t remember any.

1.27pm T-Mobile and their sh*tty ads can f**k off.

1.28pm “Time, care and attention. That’s what makes the M. That’s what makes McDonalds.” Actually, isn’t that the exact opposite of what you get from McDonalds? 

1.30pm And we’re back with SSN, going on about how ClubCall is a ‘world first’. Actually, that’s not quite true – the NBA Development League allows the teams with the three best records at the end of the season to choose their 1st round opponents. Sorry, Sky. 

1.31pm SSN is now live from Headingley. Eddie Hemmings is there, of course, blabbing on and showing he can name the four teams remaining in the competition. Well done, Eddie. Now he explains the process of how Leeds can pick either Catalan Dragons or Wigan. I wish they could pick St Helens as well (although I doubt they would). Oh dear, it appears they’ve let some fans into the suite for this press conference (bizarrely, they refuse to show any shots of them). 

1.33pm Eddie introduces Gary Hetherington and asks him to explain the process of selecting an opponent. Methinks I’m detecting a hint of padding. There’s no reason this process couldn’t take 30 seconds, is there? Apparently Gary and Brian McClennan have consulted with senior players and blah blah blah… JUST NAME YOUR OPPONENT ALREADY, GODAMN IT!

1.35pm “We had to wait and see the outome of this weekend’s games” says Gary. That was my understanding of how this works, too. Eddie asks Gary who Leeds will play, and after Gary ‘hilariously’ spinning it out a little longer, announces that next Friday Leeds Rhinos will play… Catalan Dragons. That took waaaay too long. 

 1.37pm Eddie now starts interview Dragons chief exec Christophe Levy. He’s got a pretty good grasp of English, at least as good as Stevo. He too starts waffling on a bit, about the challenge ahead etc. As Levy points out, the Dragons have never won at Headingley.

1.38pm Brian McClennan comes up to the podium to cheers of ‘bluey! bluey!’ from what I would have to assume are Leeds fans (although they don’t show these fans – it could be actors brought in to add some atmosphere for all we know). He’s now talking about how awesome the Dragons are, which seems odd considering he just chose to play them next weekend. Eddie keeps asking Bluey if he’s worried he’s just ‘done Kevin Walters’ job for him’. Somebody needs to stop trying to create a story where there isn’t one (hint: it’s Eddie). 

1.40pm Of course, this also means we now know the teams for the other semi-final, adn Eddie now talks to Brian Noble about going over to Knowsley Rd to take on St Helens. According to Brian, it’s going to be ‘all about performance’. *Sigh* can’t he say something slightly more interesting?

1.42pm Now Eddie is talking to Eamonn McManus, who seems to have a slightly odd shade of hair colour. It’s somewhere between blond and white. It seems like it’s glowing… anyway, McManus hopes for a sellout at the GPW Recruitment Stadium next weekend. He’s not the only one. 

Anyway, that’s the end of that and we have the two expected semi-finals: Leeds Rhinos vs Catalan Dragons and St Helens vs Wigan Warriors. Both should be interesting games and it will be curious to see whether Leeds’ momentum has been affected by the bye-week, because the Dragons have been right on form lately. And as for the big derby making up the other semi-final, it seems like a pick-em game at this point. 

1.44pm And we’re back in the SSN studio,  with an either over-excited or patronising (I can’t tell which) Sam Matterface and Charlotte Jackson. Hmmm, Charlotte. Maybe I’ll just watch SSN for a bit longer…

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.

Up For The Cup

August 8, 2009

CC_SF

Is it just me, or does the Challenge Cup semis feel more important this year? It certainly helps that we have two very compelling matchups this year and that there have been many good games this year (including a fantastic double header in the last round). It also helps that all of the four clubs left in the competition are bringing their own intiguing storyline to the competition.

Part of the interest is because the Cup has gone a long way to saving two seasons. For both Warrington and Wigan, the Cup has gone a long way to restoring their years, after both clubs began the year with appalling runs in Super League. Both sides have now turned it around and are pushing for playoff places. Both clubs also had fantastic performances in the Cup earlier this season (Wigan at Wakefield in the Fifth Round, Warrington at Hull KR in the Quarter Finals) that went a long way to showing that these sides have the character for a scrap. It’s interesting that they are playing each other, because these two sides who started off so below expectations now have the chance to make their season against each other.

For the Giants, the winning the Cup would go some way to legitimising their contendership. It’s well known that they have made massive strides this year, and they are currently in third place and keeping the pressure on Leeds in 2nd. Even so, very few people have been talking about them actually making a run in the playoffs and winning Super League. A Challenge Cup victory would show their aptitude for knock-out football and their mettle for big games with trophies at stake, and make them an even more interesting proposition in the playoffs.

For Saints, it’s about keeping up a tradition of victory. Since the start of the Super League era Saints have become the pre-eminent club, and a large part of that is down to their dominance of the Challenge Cup. In particular they have won the last three Finals, and are establishing a new equivalent to the great Wigan run in the late 80s / early 90s. However they have seemed more vulnerable of late, and it is clear that some of their more established names are approaching the end. Saints are the big favourites for this, and they need this win to show that they deserve this attention, and for their big names to show they’ve still got it.

Whoever wins today and tomorrow, I’m just glad that there’s so much attention back on this competition. I just hope the games live up to expectation and set up a fantastic Wembley final. Because this is the only live domestic Rugby League on the BBC, the Challenge Cup serves as a showcase for the sport. When the games are of such high quality and drama, it looks good for the game. So let’s hope the four teams and the three games left do the sport proud.

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.