The 2018 season to date for Wigan has been a completely different story to the way the 2017 campaign went. There are many reasons for that, perhaps the biggest reason is the injury count has so far, been favourable for Wigan compared to the turmoil of 2017. At the time of writing marks 12 months on from St Helens beating Wigan 22-19 at Langtree Park which was followed by a home defeat by Wakefield, defeat at Hull and then 50 – 34 defeat at Leigh!Embed from Getty Images
The players and coaching staff have got to take a lot of credit from the turnaround in 2018 so far compared with 12 months ago, the inquisition at the end of 2017 seems to be working so far.
One change that was addressed by Wigan in the close season was the kicking issue. Wigan finished the 2017 season with statistics that were, well harrowing on the kicking front. The 2017 season finished with Wigan kicking 0 (ZERO!) 40/20’s and a 62% success rate with conversions.Embed from Getty Images
There were many games last year that perhaps could have changed from a better conversion rate, with Wigan too many times scoring in 4’s rather than 6’s. Perhaps the biggest and crucial example is the Challenge Cup final last August, the only difference between the sides was that Marc Sneyd kicked his three conversions and Wigan missed their three.Embed from Getty Images
So, step forward Charlie Hodgson, the former England Rugby Union stand-off who amassed 3,697 (!) points in his rugby career. Hodgson was brought in by Wigan as a kicking consultant in the close season, a very out of the box thinking appointment by the club. Most people I am sure would have looked to address the problem literally, perhaps by bringing in a player that is a kicking specialist, but Shaun Wane has always had very strong opinions about signing someone just because they can kick! A leftfield appointment by Wigan which saw Hodgson work with the likes of Sam Tomkins, Morgan Escare and Sam Powell at Orrell over the winter months.
The first signs of Hodgson’s impact seemed to be apparent in the friendly at Leigh, in which Wigan had a more varied kicking attack – it was clear at that stage that Hodgson was not just a man that had been brought in to work on improving the conversion ratio – but Wigan’s all round kicking game. A flash in the pan that game may have been but fast forward six months and the impact that Hodgson has had is very tangible.
Sam Tomkins is now a recognised goal kicker, in fact, he is currently second in Super League for the amount of successful conversions kicked. In fact, Wigan as a side have now kicked 59 conversions by the 25thMay – they only kicked 88 in the whole of the 2017 season!
Sam Tomkins has also kicked two 40/20 so far this season at two crucial times which perhaps had a big impact on both games. His first 40/20 came in the home Super League win over Castleford at a time which Castleford were looking to get back in the game and was followed by a Wigan try. His second, came in the cup game against Hull KR which again was followed by a Wigan try.Embed from Getty Images
The impact of a varied and improved kicking game has not only aiding Wigan to second place in the table but has perhaps assisted in a more attacking brand a rugby that we have seen in 2018. The comfort that the two extra points can give a side after each try is perhaps allowing Wigan a luxury to now be able to express themselves more via more attacking rugby.