OPINION: Shaun Wane – Underappreciated?

After last week’s article on the first ten years of Ian Lenagan’s ownership was widely positively received (read here), we will look this week at Shaun Wane, who this season is into his 6th as the head coach of Wigan – the longest-serving Super League Era, Wigan coach.

The main idea for this article came from when we ran our poll for people to vote for their greatest Super League Era Wigan XIII, we also included the option of voting for a coach – every Wigan coach from the Super League era was eligible, from John Monie to Andy Goodway. The winner of the vote was Michael Maguire who achieved 44%, with Shaun Wane in second with 27%. A few discussions then appeared on social media about the way Shaun Wane is perhaps perceived compared to Maguire within the Wigan fan base and how he is perhaps under appreciated in some quarters.

There is no doubt that Maguire was a great coach for Wigan and someone who is credited with the change of fortunes Wigan have experienced since 2010. However, is that doing a disservice to Shaun Wane, a man who has won two Super League titles, a Challenge Cup, a League Leaders Shield and the World Club Challenge? At what stage would people start to think to Shaun Wane as the greatest Super League Era coach for Wigan – and is that a title he now deserves? During this article, I will look at various aspects of Shaun Wane’s management at Wigan and assess his first five and a bit seasons at Wigan and debate whether he should be viewed as the greatest Wigan coach in the Super League Era. 

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Success

At the time of writing, Wane has a 70% win ratio whilst in coach of Wigan, having been in charge for 176 games, winning 123, experiencing 49 losses and drawing 4 games. Compare that with Daryl Powell, a coach often used as a contrast to Wane, who has coached Castleford for 113 games, winning 62 which is a win ratio of 55%. Success is expected at Wigan, there is no doubt about that and when you look at his five a bit seasons so far at Wigan, he has won five trophies – the expectation of winning a trophy a year has surely been met?

The one season without silverware, 2014, is one that will always be one that is remembered for a very good Wigan side, favourites to win the Grand Final before the game but the Ben Flower red card put pay to that. Interestingly after that game, Shaun Wane mentioned that the players perhaps missed an opportunity in that game to really make a mark in history, by winning the game with 12 men – they certainly had their opportunities.

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Winning the double in 2013 was a major achievement, the struggles that teams seem to have after winning at Wembley is well documented and to get his team back in peak condition for the playoff series in 2013 deserves a lot of credit. A feat that was perhaps overshadowed by Leeds’s treble in 2015 – but still a great achievement.

The Grand Final win in 2016 will probably rank alongside the World Club Challenge victory in 2017 as Wane’s greatest achievements to date as Wigan head coach, if anything, I think winning the Grand Final in 2016 probably sits slightly above the WCC victory. Winning the Grand Final after the number of injuries Wigan suffered in 2016 is an impressive feat, one that again can be highlighted by reflecting on the season that Leeds had. Leeds were similarly affected by injuries but struggled early season and had to secure their Super League status via the Middle 8’s whereas Wigan struggled at times but finished the season in second place and won the Grand Final.

The 2016 season saw a siege mentality from Wane and the players, particularly in the aftermath of the Super 8’s game at home to Widnes, which seemed to be followed by a mass meltdown by fans on social media and forums alike. What followed were two great victories versus Hull FC and Warrington, with an exhibition-like performance against Catalans sandwiched in-between. The ability to get the players to perform to a championship winning level after the 6-8 defeat at home to Widnes is by far the period of Shaun Wanes coaching career to date that showcases his motivational skills and desire to succeed, even when the chips are down. I struggle to imagine another coach being able to get that level of commitment and triumph that we saw from the 9th September to the 8th October 2016 at Wigan.

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Youth

One element of Wane’s management that no one can doubt, is his trust in youth and his ability to get players from the Under 19’s into the First Team setup. From my research, I think that Shaun Wane has promoted handed 33 debuts to players from Wigan’s own academy compared to 20 external signings (not including returning players like Joe Burgess, Sam Tomkins etc.) A number of the players that have made their debut after coming through the ranks are no longer at Wigan but are still plying their trade at a high level, Matty Russell, Joe Mellor, Iain Thornley and Logan Tomkins are good examples. I have added a list of players below which I believe to be complete but there may be a couple missing who from that list. With the way the 2017 season is going, you would expect that list of 33 to grow with the likes of Josh Ganson and Caine Barnes likely to be on the verge of a first team call up before too long.

Youth Players Handed Debut by Shaun Wane
Joe Mellor
Matty Russell
Logan Tomkins
Sam Powell
Ryan King
Tom Spencer
Dom Crosby
Jack Murphy
Rhodri Lloyd
Iain Thornley
Greg Burke
George Williams
Ryan Hampshire
James Greenwood
Joe Burgess
Lewis Tierney
Dom Manfredi
Connor Farrell
Ryan Sutton
Callum Wright
Jamie Doran
Oliver Gildart
Nick Gregson
Jake Shorrocks
Joe Bretherton
Jack Higginson
Luke Waterworth
Jack Wells
Kyle Shelford
Macauley Davies
Liam Forsyth
Liam Marshall
Tom Davies

To create a pathway for so many young players, most from the local area, through to professional sport is perhaps an unprecedented achievement in Rugby League and many other sports. When you take the 33 debuts into account and contrast that with five trophies over a five-year period, that is an incredible return and one that I doubt could be repeated at any other Super League club and possibly by any other coach that has the same belief in blooding young players.

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Signings

Another area that is worth looking at when assessing Shaun Wane’s tenure is his recruitment policy and looking at the success of such signings. Wigan’s policy of allowing players to experience the NRL or Rugby Union; with the opportunity of them returning at a later date is a bold policy and one that has been successful. This is perhaps to be attributed to Ian Lenagan and Kris Radlinski more so than Shaun Wane – but one thing Wane does ensure, is that the Wigan culture and environment is one that people want to return to. The club is applauded widely for this strategy, a move that back in the 2013 season when it was announced that Sam Tomkins would be leaving, probably seemed like a hard one to swallow for many Wigan fans. However, in hindsight, this policy has worked out pretty well for Wigan to date.

Wane’s recruitment policy has often been to buy “projects” and improve players that are signed, often to become internationals and first team regulars. Again I have included a list of players below which I believe to be a complete list of Shaun Wane’s signings during his time at Wigan, excluding returning players like Tomkins, Leuluai etc. When you look through that list, one thing that is clear is the signings that perhaps seemed underwhelming at the time of the announcement to the level that those players are now capable of. There are a few players on the list who were not qualified successes during their time at Wigan but there isn’t many. The likes of Ben Flower, Tony Clubb, Willie Isa, Anthony Gelling, Dan Sarginson – look to have been inspired signings and improved a great deal during their time playing under Shaun Wane.

Players Signed by Shaun Wane

(excluding re-signing players like Tomkins, Burgess etc)

Gill Dudson
Ben Flower
Epalahame Lauaki
Anthony Gelling
Matty Smith
Blake Green
Scott Taylor
Andy Powell
Matty Bowen
Eddy Pettybourne
Dan Sarginson
Tony Clubb
John Bateman
Jordan James
Taulima Tautai
Larne Patrick
Willie Isa
Frank-Paul Nuuausala
Morgan Escare
Romain Navarrette

Style of rugby

Perhaps the biggest criticism that people have had about Shaun Wane during his time at Wigan so far is that style of rugby Wigan often play. The perceived structured style has been successful, the trophies won by Wane acknowledge that, but perhaps the lack of points scored last year was the main point of frustration for many at Wigan. However, I think we must look at the whole picture in order to grasp a full understanding of the attacking nature of Wigan under Shaun Wane, or perhaps lack of in some people’s opinion.

Season Games Points For PF Average Points Against PA Average PD
2012 27 994 36.81 449 16.62 545
2013 27 816 30.22 460 17.04 356
2014 27 834 30.89 429 15.89 405
2015 30 798 26.60 530 17.67 268
2016 30 669 22.30 560 18.67 109
2017 5 128 25.60 74 14.80 54
TOTALS 146 4239 29.03 2502 17.14 1737

Looking at the table above, you can see that on average in Super League and Super 8’s games, Wigan score an average of 29.03 points per game, conceding on average 17.14 per game. Last season, the average of points per game dropped to 22.30 the lowest in the Wane era. Given the number of injuries sustained last season, the drop would perhaps be expected but also meaning that finishing second in the league and winning the Grand Final – really was a remarkable success.

So far this season, after five Super League rounds, the average points scored per game has increased slightly but the dizzy heights of the 2012 season in which Wigan averaged 36.81 points per game is still a long way off. However, the 2012 season finished with Wigan winning the League Leaders Shield and falling short in both the Challenge Cup and Super League. The high scoring side of 2012 can be perhaps be compared to the Warrington side back in 2011 and the Castleford side so far in 2017 – all-out attack doesn’t always ensure success.

Overall, if someone offered you in 2012 that for the following five seasons, Wigan would score an average of six tries per game over that period – surely we all have been satisfied with that?

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The Greatest Wigan Coach in the Super League Era?

I believe that if Shaun Wane was from Sydney and achieved exactly the same as he has to date at Wigan, he would receive a lot more credit from the Wigan fans and from the wider rugby league community. I think Wane divides opinion outside of the Wigan fan base because he is a passionate Wiganer and that is perhaps understandable. I do think that Shaun Wane has come in from a lot of unfair criticism over the past few years particularly last season with the attacking debate, however, when we look at the figures in more detail, as we have above, I do think Shaun Wane deserves more credit.

The question posed at the top of the article was where does Shaun Wane sit in Wigan fans perspectives, in light of Michael Maguire being voted Wigan’s Greatest  Super League Coach in our recent poll. After looking over the evidence above, I would suggest that Shaun Wane is already Wigan’s greatest Super League Era coach and that he perhaps doesn’t get the credit he deserves internally from some of the Wigan fan base and certainly externally. It is remarkable that a coach that has won what Wane has in the past few years has never been voted Coach of the Year at the Steve Prescott Man of Steel Awards – surely that will be addressed sooner rather than later?

I think Michael Maguire deserves the credit and acknowledgement that he does receive for assisting in turning around a faltering club to a successful, mainly from a cultural point of view as well as the two trophies he won. However, to continue that success over a longer period and dealing with players such as Richards, Tomkins (x3), Carmont, Finch, Hoffman etc leaving the club and presenting an opportunity to 33 academy players is a greater achievement in the Super League Era (and perhaps longer than that) that we have seen at Wigan.

Here is to hopefully many more years of Shaun Wane as Wigan’s head coach and hopefully, more people will agree in due course that we have a very special coach who is currently overseeing the most successful era in Wigan’s Super League history – it wasn’t too long ago since we were battling relegation…

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2 thoughts on “OPINION: Shaun Wane – Underappreciated?

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  1. If Wane has arrived with 3 NRL Players, as McGuire did, we would be able to make a meaningful comparison

  2. I remember Shaun from his pre Wigan coach,a sound lad with a massive heart in the right place. His being Wigan through and through may make him unpopular with our opposition but he is by far our best coach for many years and long may he reign.

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