Round 12 of Super League starts this weekend which marks the second half of the regular Super League season before the league splits into the Super 8’s and The Qualifiers. The league table at the moment probably shows the league at its most unpredictable since Super League began – who would have expected St Helens and Warrington to be positioned in the 8th and 9th positions? Likewise, Castleford leading the way with Salford, up until the last couple of weeks, not far behind them. It has certainly been a very interesting opening 11 rounds of the league. St Helens parting company with Keiron Cunningham perhaps summing up the season so far.
From Wigan’s point of view, injuries ensured there was a four game winless run through March and early April, but all together, 4th in the table and being World Club Champions isn’t too shabby! To mark the halfway point of the regular season, we will have a look through the Wigan squad and rate their performances so far …
- Sam Tomkins
His injury set back became even worse in March when it was announced that he was to have further surgery to remove a plate from his foot which was effecting his movement. At the time of writing, it is likely that Tomkins is still over a month away from making his return. His place in the side is the current topic of much debate, does he deserve to displace Morgan Escare or does the injury to Thomas Leuluai present an opportunity from Sam to return to the side at 6 or 7. Time will tell but you get the feeling that he needs a big second half of the season after missing half of last season also; the current marquee player is perhaps susceptible to more criticism than most and whilst he remains injured, that criticism will continue. Let’s hope that Sam returns to his pre-2014 form when he returns.
- Dom Manfredi
Another injured player who is unlikely to play before the Super 8’s if at all this season. The form of Marshall, Davies, Tierney and Burgess means that Manfredi’s absence has perhaps been felt the least so far but he is a wonderful talent who would certainly add even more strength to the Wigan side in late 2017.
- Anthony Gelling
So far so good from Gelling. He hasn’t been quite at his 2016 imperial best so far and an injury and suspension has so far restricted his appearances. However, he was been solid so far and dealing with new wing partners has also probably had an impact on his form compared to last year. He did have a run of games when it felt that he was just trying to do too much again, even in the WCC game, his offloads at times leave you with your heart in your mouth – but I guess that’s just the Man of the People for you. You have to accept the stupid to get to the brilliance. However, the side does look much weaker without Gelling in there and hopefully we will see him back to his mercurial best soon.
- Oliver Gildart
A really good start to the season with some great performances against Salford, Widnes and Cronulla. His performance against Cronulla was probably the best performance of Gildart’s short career to date in which he outperformed his opposite number, Jack Bird. An injury restricted his early season games and then the crusher tackle from Brett Ferres has seemingly ensured a long break from the game for Oliver over the next month or so. No real timeframe has been put on his return from injury due to the seriousness of a back injury and you can be assured that Wigan will not be rushing him back. He was being tipped as wildcard pick for England at the 2017 World Cup, that may now be a big ask. However, the new heritage rulings mean that he could represent Italy at the World Cup and play for England in a future tournament. Probably not a bad option for Gildart, although the Wigan fan in me would like to see him have a full off season, as we are likely to have a lot of players at the World Cup.
- Joe Burgess
It’s like he has never been away, Joe Burgess is, in my eyes, the best finisher in Super League at the moment. Another who has been injured for a significant part of the season and who’s return has been to play out of position in the centres – but he looks to be adapting to that position and his try scoring ability has not been diminished as a result. His link up play with George Williams is a part of Wigan’s game plan that I didn’t realised we had missed in 2016 until you see it in full flow in 2017. If I had the time, I would love to work out how many of Joe Burgess’s tries have been as a direct result of a George Williams assist, it would be high! Joe has been a great re-signing for Wigan, probably highlighted by his wonderful hat trick in the WCC. He is unlucky to have been overlooked by England in the forthcoming international against Samoa but he must be a certainty for the World Cup if he can keep fit. We will see the best of him when he can return to the wing and the partnership between Gildart and Burgess can resume its flourishment.
- George Williams
After 11 rounds and a World Club Challenge, George Williams is my Man of Steel for 2017 so far. His performances have consistently been excellent and his ability to score tries and assist tries is improving week by week. The calming influence of Thomas Leuluai next to him, seems to have improved his ability to control games. The first half of the season was rounded off with the announcement that George Williams has signed a new four year contract, which sees him become Wigan’s second marquee player. A great move by Wigan, securing their best player before he probably has a crack at the NRL in 2020 or 2021 for a predefined transfer fee. He has been Wigan’s best player so far this season, along with Morgan Escare and hopefully he can carry on his performances for the rest of the season – which will probably result in a Man of Steel nomination at the very least.
- Thomas Leuluai
It’s hard to analyse Thomas Leuluai’s season so far, I think he is the type of player who does so much that probably goes unappreciated and unnoticed by most. One area which I think you can judge him on, is the aforementioned form of George Williams, which I do believe is down partly to playing alongside Leuluai. His quiet leadership and professionalism has been a god send for Wigan whilst going through their continuous injury crisis. A second broken jaw in six months means that Wigan will be without Thomas Leuluai for most of the second half of the regular season and we may see how well Leuluai has been playing during his absence (hopefully not). I think he has had a steady start to the season in which he has focused on getting the basics right and created a platform for George Williams to shine.
- Frank-Paul Nuuausala
I have been a little disappointed with the wrecking ball so far, he has started the vast majority of games this season and wonder whether that has diminished his impact. Perhaps a prolonged role as a bench prop may see him raise the intensity of games when he comes on. At times this season, he has almost looked unfit and perhaps not able to do the minutes he has been required to do at the standard than he can produce. Having said that, FNP is Wigan’s best performing prop so far when it comes to average gain, with an average drive of 7.65 metres. I still think he is a very good player but wonder whether a break for a week or so could see him come back much fresher.
- Michael McIlorum
Two games into his comeback is nowhere near enough time to judge his comeback after 14 months away. As he works his way back to fitness, we will start to see a return to the uncompromising Mickey Mac defence and his ever-improving decision making from dummy half. He is now one of the experienced pro’s in the Wigan side and hope Wigan will benefit from his leadership in the second half of the season. The next few games could be key for Mickey Mac, as he may be required to do longer minutes in the absence of Thomas Leuluai.
10. Ben Flower
He seemed to have his best game of the season so far against Catalans last time out. Flower has been a consistent performer yet again this season and has gone about his job without perhaps performing unbelievably well. His average carry is 6.87 metres which is behind the likes of Tautai, Bretherton and Navarrete so far, however having played more minutes than all of the above, perhaps that’s to be expected. A good solid performance so far from a very good player.
- Joel Tomkins
After a long injury absence Joel Tomkins has returned this season to be a fairly regular starter for Wigan. He started the season as an interchange replacement for Sean O’Loughlin, covering the loose forward position. However, recent weeks have seen him return to being a starting second row. I wrote a piece in the Wigan Evening News 18th Man column early this year commenting on the improving defensive displays from Tomkins. I think this an area which can sometimes be overlooked but I have seen a real improved defensive display in the first 11 rounds of the season. One area which frustrates every Wigan fan with Joel Tomkins, is simply his discipline, he has given 10 penalties away, the most by any Wigan player so far.
- Liam Farrell
Liam Farrell has continued his Grand Final form into this season and has been his consistent best in 2017. Being overlooked for the England squad is nothing short of a disgrace, particularly when Australian Chris McQueen has taken his spot in the squad. Farrell has come up with big tries and big plays when his team needs him and his relationship on the left edge with Williams is improving week in, week out. England’s loss is Wigan’s gain for the international weekend. A very consistent season so far and he was sincerely missed during his injury absence earlier in the campaign.
- Sean O’Loughlin
O’Loughlin has looked to have benefitted from missing the Four Nations last year and having a full preseason this season. His is very unlikely to do 80 minutes in games now and Wigan’s performances do seem to improve during the minutes that O’Loughlin is on the pitch, perhaps most notably last week against Catalans. The next few weeks could see O’Loughlin play some minutes in the halves during Leuluai’s absence which he is more than capable of doing. Despite being in the later stages of his career O’Loughlin has proved again this season that he is irreplaceable in the current squad and Wigan look a far different beast with him in the side.
- John Bateman
Just the one game so far for Bateman, which was the WCC win – in which he played very well. Surgery on a problem shoulder is set to keep him out until June – and what a great player to have returning for the Super 8’s. Tipped by many as a Man of Steel contender at the start of the season, he will be keen to make up for lost time upon his return – expect a very determined John Bateman in June!
- Tony Clubb
It was great to see him back this season and he has played an important role in the early parts of the season, which saw him win his first piece of silverware in the WCC. Unfortunately, his season has now been cut short again due to having a kidney removed. We wish him a speedy recovery and hope to see him back in the Cherry and White in 2018.
16. Sam Powell
He was brilliant last year, filling in for Michael McIlorum and he has continued in the same way so far this season. I can’t remember the last time I saw Powell have a bad game, his intensity and effort levels are incredible, he has quickly become a true fans favourite. The next few weeks are likely to see him return to his preferred role in the halves during the absence of Thomas Leuluai, it will be interesting to see how he adapts returning to that role and whether he returns to share the hooking duties afterwards. A good run in the halves could see Leuluai return to be a bench hooker – a very interesting opportunity coming over the next few weeks for Sam Powell. A great season so far and much more to come from him.
- Taulima Tautai
Another great season so far, epitomised in his performances against Castleford and Wakefield so far this season. His ability to break tackles and find good offloads make him a really great option for Wigan. He was rarely struggled to make an impact so far this season which has, according to rumour, seen NRL sides attempt to recruit him for the 2018 season. A very good start to 2017 which has made him one of the first names on Shaun Wane’s team sheet.
- Ryan Sutton
For me, he has got to be a contender for young player of the year this season. His impact from the bench for Wigan has been excellent so far this season. He is still only 21 years of age and as a prop, a very young age for a prop to be performing a consistently good level. He is another player who is currently un-droppable from the Wigan side. His season was probably epitomised with the excellent tackle made on his own goal line against Wakefield on Easter Monday, a big hit which won resulted in the attacking player losing the ball and Wigan gaining possession, in which they scored and won the game in the next set. A player who is surely set for international honours in the next few years if he continues at the same rate.
- Willie Isa
Shaun Wane said that dropping Isa for the WCC was one of the most difficult decisions that he has had to make in his management career. Isa has been Mr Dependable for Wigan and a player who has played in most positions so far this season. Perhaps calling him unremarkable may sound harsh, but I mean that as a compliment. He simply gets on with the job in which he is tasked with and he is such an important squad player for Wigan. However, his lack of tries and lack of attacking threat may ultimately see him out of the side later in the season if Tomkins, Farrell, Bateman and O’Loughlin are all fit.
- Lewis Tierney
Another player who has had his season cut short so far with injury. He started the season as a first choice winger in Manfredi’s absence and produce two great defence displays against Justin Carney at Salford and the following week against Cronulla. He does seem to lack the killer instinct of a natural winger and that may ultimately mean that he doesn’t replace Liam Marshall or Tom Davies on the wing. A utility player who has been solid when needed but probably faces a fight in the second half of the season to get a regular starting spot in the side due to the emergence of Marshall/Davies.
- Morgan Escare
At the start of the season, Anthony Gelling said he wanted someone else to be the man of the people this year and carry than title. Well I am declaring Morgan Escare as the new Man of the People. I can’t remember another signing in recent years who has performed above expectations so much like Escare has so far. Solid in defence, electric in attack and he can kick goals! His form has seen him be rewarded with a new extended contract at Wigan and he has quickly become a fans favourite. The more he plays, the better he will become and working with the likes of Sam Tomkins will only help to improve his game. As mentioned in the Sam Tomkins section, Escare’s performances have resulted in people questioning where Tomkins plays when he returns – and that’s a debate for when Tomkins is fit. But what a player Shaun Wane has signed in the shape of Morgan Escare. My favourite Frenchman since King Eric.
- Nick Gregson
Returned from injury to provide good utility cover this season, seems to be a very talented player who will get more opportunities in the side over the next few weeks. His biggest issue at the moment is the “utility” tag which may give him opportunities in the short term, however he may need to nail a position for him to develop into over the next couple of years. I have been impressed with him in his short spells so far this year and I am looking forward to seeing more of him in 2017.
- Joe Bretherton
Bretherton seems to be the player to suffer when players return from injury as he gets dropped from the 19 man squad. I think his performance against Hull FC at the DW was his best performance so far in the Cherry and White. Depending on injuries etc, I think Bretherton could benefit from a month or so out on loan at a Super League club in which he can get minutes week in, week out. Good so far when called upon and hopefully he continues to develop.
- Jake Shorrocks
Injury has ended his season which is incredible unfortunate, as the opportunity for him to have a run in the side in the number 7 jersey would have fallen to him now, with Thomas Leuluai’s injury. Hopefully he can recover fully and we can get excited about what he may offer in 2018.
- Romain Navarrete
Started the season out on dual registration with Swinton and has now established himself as a strong first team performer. One of Shaun Wane’s “project signings” and we probably won’t get to see the best of him until 2018/2019 but the experience he is getting at the moment will accelerate his development. I am always pleased to see him in the squad and I have been reasonably impressed with his contributions so far this season.
- Connor Farrell
The forgotten Farrell? Injuries have resulted in him not playing so far this season but now fully fit and fighting for his opportunity back in the first team
- Jack Wells
Another injury casualty after breaking back into the first team as centre/second row cover. A highly rated youngster who scored with pretty much his first touch against Warrington. Hopefully he will be back in contention for a first team opportunity again in the second half of the season as I think he could become a first team regular in 2018.
- Liam Forsyth
Reminds me very much of Iain Thornley, probably due to the fact they both returned from Rugby Union to play a centre/wing role for Wigan. However, Forsyth seems to be learning and keen to learn, his performances are gradually improving, in particular his defensive displays. My biggest gripe with Iain Thornley was that he stopped improving relatively quickly whereas Forsyth looks to be developing well and another who will be in and out of the side for 2017 but a player who will be benefitting for his exploits in the first team so far.
- Liam Marshall
The best academy graduate this season? The boy can finish! He is currently Wigan’s top try scorer and his form has resulted in Joe Burgess covering in the centres, rather than Burgess replacing him in the side. In his very short career to date he has scored all types of tries – long range, short range and acrobatic finishes. He is seemingly targeted by opponents with high bombs, but seems to be dealing with everything that is thrown at him. His footwork is very very good and has been catching defences out on his kick returns, just ask Kyle Amor 😉
- Tom Davies
A player who is possibly another who could be argued as Wigan’s best academy graduate so far this season. He has acquitted himself really well to first team rugby so far and produced his best performance so far for Wigan against Catalans last week, scoring two great tries and an impressive 309 metres. He is another player who may benefit from a loan at a Super League club for the Super 8’s if Burgess, Marshall, Tierney and Tomkins are fit with the possible return of Manfredi also. He could be a great short term signing for a sign that ends up in the qualifiers and would be more beneficial for Davies to be playing at that level, rather than returning to under 19’s and reserve grade rugby.
Best game of the season, well it has to be Cronulla doesn’t it? Relive it below: