OPINION: The State of Things and a Case For Attack

A look at the state of things, all things Wigan at the moment. Last week’s game against Warrington was an opportunity missed for Wigan to get within touching distance of the top four. That being said, surely last week’s defeat can’t be too bad, after all if two points would have put us close to the top four?

In this piece, I will try to break down the current frustrations of most Wigan fans, play devil’s advocate and take a step back from the situation to see what the state of things actually is, away from that all-consuming bubble of being a Wigan fan.

The State of Things

The true state of things, without any underlying context:

Wigan are:

  • World Champions
  • In the Semi Final of the Challenge Cup
  • 8th in the Super League but with a Super 8’s place guaranteed
  • 17 points off 1st place Castleford
  • 5 points off 4th place Wakefield and therefore a semi-final spot
  • Have 16 points to play for this season, four home games and four away games including Leeds on Friday
  • Next week if Dom Manfredi is fit, have the opportunity to play their 1 – 13 for the first time this season

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So, if in January, I was to offer you the following, would that be acceptable as a Wigan fan:

  • World Champions
  • Semi Final in the Challenge Cup
  • 5 points off a Super League Semi Final place, but with 16 points to play for

I would assume the answer to that would be very much split, me personally, I would take that – 100%. Finishing the season as World Champions and Challenge Cup winners would be a good season, in any season in my book.

However, many people’s frustrations at the moment is not just the position that Wigan are in but they go much deeper than that.

Shaun Wane has hinted at changing a couple of things in his side on Friday against Leeds, it does feel like that is probably needed. For me, the Wigan players looked out on their feet on Thursday – how much the humid conditions in Catalans the previous Saturday took out of the players will perhaps be for all to see on Friday.

One department which Wigan looked to be well beaten in was the forwards. Perhaps a freshen up is needed, Nuuasala looked way off the pace on Thursday, a player who has played every game for Wigan this season. Perhaps a rest before the semi-final could pay dividends against Salford and give someone like Callum Field or Joe Bretherton another shot.

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However, probably the biggest area of contention at the moment is Wigan’s attack:

After Thursday, many people, in fact most Wigan fans, left the game frustrated with Wigan’s failing attack. I have seen comments on social media, suggesting that it was one of the poorest attacking performances they have ever seen from a Wigan side – I was certainly left frustrated. The attack seemed to lack structure, aggression and leadership. Wigan’s forwards struggled to make meterage and as a result, the backs seemed to struggle to apply themselves and influence the game.

Wigan’s attack for the past two seasons has seen a notable difference in approach. 2010 – 2014 saw Wigan play with a structured setup, a structure which had many critics but it seemed to work.

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However, probably Wigan’s best-attacking side and performances in the, let’s call it, Lenegan Era, came in 2012. Wigan scored at an average of 36.81 points per game and played some unbelievable rugby, perhaps that Wigan v St Helens game at the Etihad Stadium being the pinnacle of the attacking rugby we saw. However, that season, Wigan won no trophies.

Season Games Points For PF Average Points Against PA Average PD
2010 27 922 34.15 411 15.22 511
2011 27 852 31.56 432 16.00 420
2012 27 994 36.81 449 16.63 545
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 22 505 22.95 518 23.55 -13
146 6390 43.77 3789 25.95 2601.00

Table 1: Wigan Points For and Against in League Games 2010 – Present (18th July 2017)

The very visible move from the attacking structured play in 2016 and this season, has seen Wigan produce two of their worst attacking seasons in the Lenegan Era; but they are Super League Champions, World Champions and Challenge Cup Semi Finalist’s playing with this current style.

I am not sure what the answer is in terms of the attack for Wigan, everyone can see it isn’t great and Shaun Wane will know more than anyone that it isn’t ideal. I don’t know what the answer is and I trust Messrs Williams, Leuluai, Tomkins etc to sort it out. But, do the above stats suggest that we should be careful what we wish for? Attacking rugby played in a structured system, which if a team works out can be frustrating to watch as it appears there isn’t a Plan B. Or, the current system, which I would suggest is more of a system that is aimed at allowing a great, albeit young, talent in George Williams to play what he sees. Wrap George Williams up in a structured attack and you lose one of the best attacking threats that we have?

It could also be argued, that since George Williams became a permanent feature in the side back in 2015, Wigan’s attack has declined and is now averaging 8 points per game less. I am not suggesting that George Williams is at fault and that Wigan’s attacking woes in the recent past are down to George Williams. However, the question to be asked is, are Wigan getting the best from him if the amount of points they are scoring with him in the side has actually reduced or, is there too much reliance of a young halfback – he is still only 22 years old!

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Perhaps the answer is, Wigan haven’t found the right partner for Williams yet? Having said that, Wigan are scoring on average, two tries per game less in 2017 than their title winning season in 2010 and conceding nearly two tries more per game than 2010 – a time frame which is much longer than William’s involvement in the side.

Another notable change during the same period and one thing that many Wigan fans have pointed out is that lack of a designated attacking coach. Wigan have enjoyed success with former half backs supporting Shaun Wane notably Paul Deacon and Iestyn Harris. Since Deacon departed the club to swap codes with Sale Sharks, Wigan haven’t explicitly replaced him. However, Shaun Wane is aided by the well-respected John Winder, Steve McCormack and Matty Peet. Do Wigan need an attacking coach or is it just us fans spotting a difference between good attack and bad attack? Wigan have coaching roles earmarked for Sean O’Loughlin and Tommy Leuluai, so perhaps that may be part of the thought process for Wigan also. The other main part of their thinking may be – who. Who do you get in that would improve the side, it’s a very niche role that we are probably expecting someone to do without fully knowing what it is they do.

I think that Wigan’s attacking troubles is very much an issue that can and will be rectified. I look back at the early season games against Salford, Cronulla, Widnes and Warrington – the attack during those games was pretty good. It’s just a case, I believe, of confidence and game time. After all, Williams and Leuluai have been playing with numerous fullbacks and 13’s as well as half back partners this season. A settled spine to the team and I believe the discussion on attacking failure with be suitable forgotten about – let’s hope that’s on Friday against Leeds.

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