Well I must admit I've resigned myself to the fact that this Wigan
side just does not have the legs to win the Grand Final this year,
so I'll be honest it wouldn't bother me if we crashed out on the
play offs this Sunday.
I hate being negative but now we've been through a cup final
success, you really can see how much the cup final takes out of a
side. We are mirroring Warrington's season last year. Worked hard
all regular season, got pipped for a vital position in the league
table late on and ended up with a tough first round play off game
against St Helens.
It's not just that though, this whole play off system leaves me
deflated. I mean you work hard all season and what for? Last week
we ended up with the toughest game of the lot! Really we'd have
been better off easing off completely for the cup run, finishing
5th and ending up with Hull at home and then a woefully out of
form Huddersfield away tonight to get to next week. Ok we'd lose a
second chance but I think that is far easier than what we've ended
up with! Would you rather be going to Huddersfield away tonight
with a good crowd on or playing Catalan at home with an empty away
I've been having a read of
this - a preview by a Saints fan who writes that "1v4 and
2v3 games undermine the play off system by throwing huge games
into the opening round when instead we should be building towards
the pinnacle." - I think that is spot on. This current system
halts the momentum of two teams that have performed well all year,
for no reason what so ever.
The crowds are clearly not buying the play offs either. Last
week saw a crowd of just 12,893 for a derby against St Helens!
That's the worst home derby crowd since 12,461 turned up for a
late Sunday Evening match at Central Park in June 1998. Apart from
that, you have to go way back to Boxing Day 1983 for a lower crowd
than last Sunday. That's quite condemning!
But should it be a surprise? £60-80 for Wembley + £20 for
Warrington away + £20 for Saints (H) + £20 for Catalan (H) +
another £20 and travel expenses next week if we win + a potential
huge priced Grand Final ticket - all within the space of about 6
weeks is a lot of money. You can't really blame some fans for
choosing to opt out of a game that is not vital to the season's
Then again fans are hardly lapping up this week's clash with
Catalan. 5pm Sunday is a terrible kick off time and the thought of
attending a game knowing that their will be zero away fans in
attendance is a struggle even for me, a die hard fan!
It's not just us though. Saints themselves only brought 2,800
for the game last week. To be fair that is a good following in my
book but I can't remember them too often failing to sell out the
North Stand. Leeds had just 9,075 on at Headingley also.
The bottom line is that unlike in Australia, we do not have the
fitness nor the quality in depth to make the top 8 play offs
exciting. Aside from a hard fought game at Wigan - scorelines of
47-0, 56-6 and 42-10 elsewhere made for dreadful viewing. It's not
just this year. Remember the "classic" week 1 play off games of
the last two years? Leeds 44 Hull KR 8? St Helens 15 Huddersfield
2? Wigan 18 Castleford 12? Huddersfield 18 Crusaders 12? Hull 4
Hull KR 21? - Those last four may seem like close scores but they
were all terribly boring to watch on tv!
This "second chance" scenario gives mixed omens for Wigan as
well. Since the play offs went up to the top 8 - a side getting a
"second chance" has failed three times out of four to take it. But
the only successful side was Wigan last year when we beat Hull KR
(a match that hardly anyone Wigan fan I've spoke to seems to
remember - again that say's a lot about this play off system).
Wigan also have the demons of having been beaten home and away
by Catalan this year. Not just beaten they were comprehensively
turned over in both contests. I do feel that the
47-28 home loss in April was the result of the players being
distracted by news of Michael Maguire's departure which was
announced a week later but take nothing away from Catalan, they
hammered us! The away game was a complete no show for us as well.
20-12 flattered us and it was like we'd brought back Brian
Noble as coach for the weekend - we knew pretty early in the game
that we were not going to win.
So the fact they've beaten us twice combined with the fact we
look knackered has perhaps led to a bit of desperation from
Michael Maguire? On Tuesday he announced that he has banned his
players from talking to the media this week. I actually thought it
was a smart move. Giving an interview takes nothing out of you
physically but mentally it could easily be a distraction from the
job ahead, especially if the interviewer is focusing on the
negative aspects of their game, like tiredness for example.
All Maguire has done, in my view, is to shut the world out and
get the players focused on the job head. The reaction of some of
the games journalists on twitter left me totally bemused though
because last year their was a total non-reaction when he did
exactly the same ahead of the play off semi final at Leeds. In
fact it was such a non-reaction that I didn't even know it had
happened to I heard about it this week.
I totally understand that their is a constant battle to get the
game promoted on a national level but we are talking about one
week in the whole year. It's not like the club have been
unaccommodating the rest of the time. I mean only last week, Sean
O'Loughlin spent two hours live on BBC Radio Manchester for their
"Rugby League Extra" show. Just seemed like a massive
over-reaction to me, especially considering Maguire did his weekly
press conference as normal.
I suspect a lot of the re-action has been because Maguire has
given these journalists absolutely nothing to write about in his
time here. He's always been a dead straight bat in answering
questions - so why moan when he finally gives you a story?
Whether the decision by Maguire will work remains to be seen. I
think we'll know in about five minutes on Sunday. We need to start
with big energy and show Catalan pretty quickly that we are up for
this fight. If they control the match early, we won't win. You
really do not want to be chasing games down in the play offs. We
had one famous comeback once, but it doesn't happen very often.
So can we win? Well a lot comes down to Sam Tomkins for me. I
suspect he wasn't fit against Saints. Every time he got the ball
at full back he looked desperate to get rid of it rather than risk
being tackled. That's not normal!
He wasn't the only flat player though. Their were too many! We
need a step up from quite a few players, especially up the middle.
In a way it could work in our favour that the pressure is off a
little. We can chance our arm a bit more?
We know what to expect from Catalan however. They will pump us
up the middle and if we are not on our game, they will run over
us. I really don't expect a Wigan win sadly but at the very least
I want to see us fighting and not going out with a whimper. I hope
our boys prove me wrong! We shall see!