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Shaun Wane – Wigan’s Greatest Super League Era Coach

In March last year, I wrote an opinion piece on Shaun Wane and his tenure at Wigan, it looked beyond the myth and sometimes fan perception to look at statistics of his win ratio over the seasons and players who had been given a debut by Wane.

I have updated the article to reflect on the 2017 season and the three rounds of 2018, to see whether those opinions expressed in 2017 have been altered, mainly by the perception of a poor 2017 season, a season in which Wane led Wigan to their record fourth World Club Challenge Victory and a Challenge Cup Final at Wembley.

I have also looked at Wane’s win ratio compared to other managers and it is, well remarkable…

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Lack of Recognition?

The main idea for this article came from a poll for Wigan fans to vote for their greatest Super League Era Wigan XIII, which included the option of voting for a manager – every Wigan coach from the Super League era was eligible, from John Monie to Andy Goodway.

The winner was Michael Maguire who achieved 44% of the vote, 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 fanbase.

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 we 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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“This is a very proud day for me and I am thrilled to take over as the Head Coach of my hometown Club. I have enjoyed working with Michael (Maguire) for the last two years and have learned so much from him. It has been great to play my part in helping to bring Cup success back to Wigan and I am looking forward to building on these achievements in the next couple of seasons.”

Success

At the time of writing, Wane has a 66% win ratio whilst managing Wigan, a drop from the 70% at the time of writing last season, from his 209 games in charge of Wigan so far. However, how does that compare with other coaches that have over 200 games in management?

Games Wins Percentage
1 Craig Bellamy 434 295 67.97%
2 Shaun Wane 209 138 66.03%
3 Daniel Anderson 263 168 63.88%
4 Michael Maguire 235 145 61.70%
5 Wayne Bennett 869 535 61.57%
6 Trent Robinson 207 126 60.87%
7 Brain Noble 255 155 60.78%
8 Phil Gould 299 177 59.20%
9 Daryl Powell 210 123 58.57%
10 John Monie 271 154 56.83%
11 Brian McDermott 359 196 54.60%
12 Michael Potter 215 115 53.49%
13 David Waite 207 105 50.72%

Compare Shaun Wane’s record with some great managers and it’s a record that is, quite remarkable! Obviously, there are lots of differences to be pulled from the statistics, for example the teams that Brian Noble has managed for example and when he managed them – Crusaders and a struggling Wigan side to mention two. Brian McDermott’s stats also include his spell at Harlequins and McDermott is probably, in terms of expectancy upon a manger is perhaps most comparable to Wane. But look at McDermott’s spell at Leeds in isolation and his win rate is 63.1%, still lower than Wane’s. However, Brian McDermott does have more winners medals to show for his 63.1% than Wane does for his 66.03%.

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The barren year of 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.

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 play-off 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 amount of injuries Wigan suffered in 2016 is an impressive feat, one that again can be highlighted by reflecting on the season that Leeds had. Similarly affected by injuries but Leeds 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 drive to achieve, 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.

The 2017 season, saw Wigan finish the season in 6th position, their worst league season under Shaun Wane. Contrasted with a World Club Challenge victory and a Challenge Cup Final appearance, 2017 will ultimately be viewed as a disappointment. Injuries were largely to blame for poor form during the season but the 2018 season has already seen glimpses of a more spritely Wigan attack in their games against Salford and Hull.

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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 37 debuts to players from Wigan’s own academy compared to 20 external signings (not including returning players like Joe Burges, 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
1 Joe Mellor
2 Matty Russell
3 Logan Tomkins
4 Sam Powell
5 Ryan King
6 Tom Spencer
7 Dom Crosby
8 Jack Murphy
9 Rhodri Lloyd
10 Iain Thornley
11 Greg Burke
12 George Williams
13 Ryan Hampshire
14 James Greenwood
15 Joe Burgess
16 Lewis Tierney
17 Dom Manfredi
18 Connor Farrell
19 Ryan Sutton
20 Callum Wright
21 Jamie Doran
22 Oliver Gildart
23 Nick Gregson
24 Jake Shorrocks
25 Joe Bretherton
26 Jack Higginson
27 Luke Waterworth
28 Jack Wells
29 Kyle Shelford
30 Macauley Davies
31 Liam Forsyth
32 Liam Marshall
33 Tom Davies
34 Josh Ganson
35 Callum Field
36 Josh Woods
37 James Worthington

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 37 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 weren’t qualified successes during their time at Wigan but there isn’t many. The likes of Ben Flower, Tony CLubb and Anthony Gelling,– 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 Gellng
Matty Smith
Blake Green
Scott Taylor
Andy Powell
Matty Bowen
Eddy Pettybourne
Dan Sarginson (first time…)
Tony Clubb
John Bateman
Jordan James
Taulima Tautai
Larne Patrick
Willie Isa
Frank-Paul Nuuausala
Morgan Escare
Romain Navarrette
Gabe Hamlin
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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 for 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 16.63 545
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 30 691 23.03 668 22.27 23
2018 3 74 24.67 38 12.67 36

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. In 2016, the average of points per game dropped to 22.30 the lowest in the Wane era. Given the amount of injuries sustain 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. However, the much criticised attack in 2017 was in fact better than 2016 but the side’s defence in 2016 was the worst of Wane’s time in charge of Wigan.

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 in 2017 – all-out attack doesn’t always ensure success.

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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?

The Greatest Wigan Coach in the Super League Era? YES!

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 was 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 Steal 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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