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2012 Season Preview
Posted by cherryandwhite on January 11 2012 - 15:47

2012 Season Preview

Normally, pre season is a big pain in the arse. Something you have to do, but its a bloody chore at the end of the day. The weather is normally freezing and the games are crap. This year though I'm actually looking forward to the pre season. It's going to be an intriguing one because I really am not sure what to expect from Wigan in 2012.

Clearly standards have been raised during two years under Michael Maguire, but I think it's going to be hard to continue those standards this year. Not so much because I don't have faith in Shaun Wane, I do, but I feel we may have to have a patient twelve months before he can really be judged. Why? Well I just think our squad has too many questions and not enough answers this time round.

Last year we made do with a makeshift centre in Joel Tomkins, but has since left and I wouldn't like to say who should replace him. For me "Baby Josh" Charnley should switch to centre, ideally with Amos Roberts going on the right wing, but by all accounts he is still fecked with his right knee. I actually think we're right to keep Roberts (last years Super League "Man of Biscuit") on though. He's still under contract so it doesn't make any sense to just simply cut our losses when we don't exactly have a certain starter in place. However it's almost two years since he originally got that knee injury and its hard to see how he can ever return to decent form at age 31.

If we did play Charnley at centre, and Roberts isn't fit, then Darrell Goulding would be my choice choice to play right wing with his obvious experience. Fuzzy lost his way in 2011 after an excellent 2010 in which he scored 29 tries in 26 matches, but many attribute that loss of form last year to the fact Martin Gleeson was no longer sending him in for gift tries. Could well be right but if Charnley can form a good partnership with him, I'm confident Goulding can finish. Waney though has given Darrell the Number 3 shirt, which hints that he could be right centre with Charnley on the flank, but I think the other way round is far better. Either way, it is good to see though that Fuzzy took his loss of first team action last year on the chin. He was happy to praise team mates saying he "couldn't grumble" because they had been playing so well.

Another option is this Anthony Gelling fella, who we've signed from Auckland Vulcans in New Zealand. Well recommended apparently by both Kevin Iro and Dean Bell but I must admit I know bugger all about him. Well except the fact he was sacked by Sydney Roosters last September for........well to be blunt about it..........shitting on a hotel room floor. The mind boggles. I didn't think anyone could top the certain Warrington player wanting a blow job off a dog but I reckon this runs that close. Makes you wonder what scandal will hit Rugby League in Australia next. Cameron Smith and Billy Slater in rampant outdoor threesome with Dame Edna perhaps? You heard it here first!

Still, who knows, this Gelling fella might be a great prospect. Let's hope he's shitting all over the opposition for us this year. I must admit though I'm disappointed that we, a club like Wigan, are signing overseas players who haven't even played a game in the Aussie NRL. We have a great academy here, an academy that has won four grand finals in a row, so surely we should be promoting our own talent? It disappoints me that we've signed a player who reportedly will be playing first of all in our Under 20s. For me, if we're signing an overseas player they should be top draw already or at the very least better, or as good as, the players that are already established in our first team. I've nothing against Gelling himself, I wish him well here at Wigan, but personally I'm disappointed we are signing non-established players from abroad.

The other options available out wide are Matty Russell and Ryan King. King is an out and out winger whilst Russell played full back for most of the Under 20s campaign last season but can also play wide. Both have good speed and I'm confident they will do a job, but I think they are at the stage were a bit of dual-registration action is needed before getting a first team shot, providing we aren't short of numbers. King actually seems to be also thinking along those lines as seen in a You Tube interview of his.

It isn't just on the right that I have worries. In the left centre their is the legend George Carmont. What a partnership him and Pat Richards have been down our left side. They've played 98 games together as a left centre/wing combination since 2008 and in that time they've gone over the line between them on 130 occasions. That doesn't include the tries left wingers like Shaun Ainscough and others have scored playing alongside Carmont whilst Pat was at full back. He has been an immense signing! However, he couldn't' get through a game last year without limping and that worries me. His form was still good last year, but he'll turn 34 in mid season and its a big question mark whether his knee can hold up. If we lost Carmont then our centre positions look really poor. Pray for a bit of luck I think on the injury front across the three-quarters.

Sam will obviously do the business at full back and although I'd still rather see Thomas Leuluai in at hooker, we don't really have much choice at the moment than to play him at Scrum Half now Paul Deacon has retired. Brett Finch showed some good signs last year. He was often sending players over the line and I'm hoping he can take more of a controlling role this time. Getting in a full pre season will surely help him.

Backing up in the halves are youngsters Sam Powell and Joe Mellor. Mellor was looking a beast of a prospect prior to his kneecap injury in early 2010, but I think he's struggled to get back to that form since his return. I have doubts myself over Powell as well but he, like King and Russell, will probably get more out of dual-registration this year than remaining in the Under 20s on first team stand by. Coach Shaun Wane is going to start him at Hull KR on Sunday though which is a massive opportunity for him. Who knows, maybe we could see Powell in the halves and Tommy at hooker after all?

Our obvious strength is in the pack, especially if Stuart Fielden can get fit. If he doesn't then I'm not too worried to be honest because I think Lee Mossop stepped up to be the front row leader last year. Sam was easy player of the year on this sites voting in 2011 but the fact Mossop was second to him, said a lot! The loss of Ryan Hoffman is a shame but we should be able to nullify that with Paul Prescott, Harrison Hansen, Gareth Hock, Sean O'Loughlin, Jeff Lima, Liam Farrell, Chris Tuson or Jack Hughes. That's ten players trying to fit into about nine jerseys (six starting forwards, three on the bench) before I even mention the new signings of Gil Dudson, Ben Flower and Eric Lauaki, or even good academy prospects Greg Burke and Dom Crosby. I reckon Dom should have got a game mid last season so he's more that ready for me.

Another big concern of mine is hooker. Not convinced with Mike McIlorum personally. He's like Mick Higham the second for me. A good solid pro, who'd makes a good bench hooker option, but not a starter. I just don't think he has the ability to change a game when required. Hope he proves me wrong but that worries me now Leuluai has gone back to scrum half.

The bench hooking option looks like it'll be Logan Tomkins. I'll keep saying it - I think Liam Carberry (also in first team squad this year) is a better number 9 in my eyes but being a year younger than Logan and thus Tomkins the third will probably get more game time. He'll have great pressure on him following the footsteps of Joel and Sam. Perhaps I look at him that way, but it'll be harder for him because Sam came in and had natural ability and a swagger about him. Logan is more like Joel to me, a quieter man but he has a big chance this year and, like I said, I think he needs to take it because Carberry won't be far off knocking on the first team door! What a shame by the way we won't get to see all three Tomkins brothers in a competitive match by the way!

So in conclusion - I think Wigan will still be a top 4 side and be their or their abouts when the trophies are lifted, but I just think we will need luck with injuries in the backs to win something this year. We certainly will need to make a lot of signings mid season for 2012 though. It's going to be a completely new team this time next year with probably George Carmont, Brett Finch, Thomas Leuluai, Stuart Fielden and Amos Roberts out the door. Replacing both half backs will be a big ask for Wane but I personally think we should only judge him when that is done! That also offers a lot of opportunities for youngsters to impress during this season and that can only be good for our great club.

Elsewhere to be honest I can't see past the same last four we had last season. Leeds won the league in the end but I still reckon finishing fifth benefited them, rather than finishing fourth and having to likely face Warrington twice. I'm absolutely convinced they would not have beaten Warrington twice, even if they'd have got them back to Headingley for the semi final, and that for me is the flaw in this play off system. I'm also convinced they won the Grand Final in spite of coach Brian McDermott than because of him, but this season will prove me wrong or right about that!

At Warrington, I can't help thinking that they blew their best opportunity to win the Grand Final last year. I actually think it was a hell of an achievement by Wigan that we managed to keep pace with them throughout the league campaign, because in most other years they would have romped to the title. Adrian Morley though will soon turn 35 and Lee Briers 34 and surely that has to catch up with them. What more could they give on last year? Not much in my view and that's not a slur - that's me praising how damn well they did last season. They gave everything and won bollock all! Pains me to say it but they would have been the worthy champions had they won the Grand Final, but I wonder if that disappointment might give them an hangover into this season? Especially considering they land back from a pre season trip to Australia in the week prior to a season opening trip to Hull. Good PR but not good prep surely?

St Helens obviously have the boost of playing games back in the town at the new Langtree Park, but they have to answer the question of how they will cope without James Graham. He was immense for them and filling his gap will be tough to do. I think it was proved on Good Friday last year at the DW. In the minutes that Graham was on the field it was 24-6 to Saints. All Wigan's main damage that day came in a 15 minute spell when Graham was off the field either side of half time. It was no coincidence surely? It's a question mark for me that Saints might fall into the trap Wigan fell into in 2005. Youngsters can look great when they have the experience around them but once you take that away, they can start to flap under pressure. Not saying this will happen, nor that they'll do what Wigan did in 2005, but it is a question mark ahead of this season I think. They still have the experience of the classy James Roby and full back Slug Wellens but the three-quarters of Ade Gardner, Michael Shenton, Sio Soliola and Francis Meli still looks too weak to get over that final hurdle they've fell at in both league and cup competition during the past three seasons. Lance Hohaia will be a good solid buy for them but I'll be interested to see how Mark Flanagan goes. I never rated him here at Wigan, in comparison to Lee Mossop or Liam Farrell, so I'll be interested to see how much a spell in Australia has improved him.

Not convinced anyone else will have a shot to be honest. Huddersfield won't win trophies until they stop being half season wonders. Granted Leeds won the league by turning up for about 6 weeks at the back end of the year but it was the experience of winning the play offs before that allowed them to do that. A full season out of Danny Brough would help them but I still can't see Luke Robinson ever winning a trophy. I keep saying, far too often he makes a mistake and then gets petulant throwing the ball to the ground in dummy spit fashion. Needs to show more composure than that because it costs his team when it matters.

Catalan ended last year well but were quite pathetic really in losing 44-0 here in the play offs. They should have done better than that because we were dead on our legs after the cup final. They are probably the most intriguing prospect of 2012. Could they make a break into that top 4? I'm not convinced but they should run close. Leon Pryce adds experience and Scott Dureau is a fantastic player. If they can get off to a good start (against Bradford away, then Cas and Hull at home) then back to back trips to St Helens and Wigan will be a good chance to judge their potential.

At Hull KR I think they might fall backwards now Justin Morgan has left. He did a blinding job at that club and I think he should be sat in the coaching seat at either Leeds or Saints now. Neighbours Hull have been battling with Bradford to be the leagues most pathetic side in the last couple of years. I'm amazed Richard Agar was never sacked. Another club with a new coach that I don't know much about but the squad holds no fears to my eyes. Still reckon both Humber clubs will be in the top 8 though.

I reckon Castleford, Bradford and my dark horse pick Widnes will also be around the chase for the eight. I think Ian Millward has a decent base to work on at Cas, I can't see them struggling.

Bradford have been a joke club ever since we did that famous comeback against them in 2007. Basically comes down to the fact Odsal is way beyond its sell by date now, no matter how hard they are trying to claw fans back with cheap season ticket prices. I think they'll be close to top 8 but a Ben Jeffries and Luke Gale half back combo, combined with a very weak looking pack that has lost its main man Andy Lynch, just doesn't good enough for me.

Widnes - well I think they could be a dark horse for a top 8 push. I think they've recruited reasonably well for a new side. Personally I'd had been happy to have Ben Cross stay here, whatever Leeds fans might want to tell me about him. I thought he was excellent in the four matches up until he broke his arm. Ben Davies was unlucky not to get a bigger shot at first team here as well. Squad depth is a worry and a Lloyd White, Rhys Hanbury half back duo doesn't look a big threat, but the enthusiasm of being back in Super League should see them get some good results during the campaign.

The bottom three I reckon will be Wakefield, Salford and London. Good to see London Broncos back with that name but they've had a big overturn of players in the off season. At lot of their potential success will depend on Luke Dorn, Chad Randall and new signing Craig Gower.

Wakefield are another club with a huge turnover of players. Peter Fox, Ali Lauitiiti and NRL veteran Steve Southern give them something to build around but Richard Agar being coach doesn't bode me with confidence for them. Complete rookie half back duo as well. Wakefield have always been a club that has thrived/over-achieved off the back of decent half backs with a good kicking game - Gareth Moore and Issac John squad numbers six and seven - hmmm.

The team I fear for most is Salford. I fear that new ground may turn into a bit of a mess for them off the field and that could mess them up on it. The fact a pretty first choice Salford side was humbled 36-12 at home to a Leigh side that almost died in the off season is pretty startling. They seem to be desperate to get Sale Rugby Union into the new place as owners/tenants and it just all smells of disaster. I hope I'm wrong though because the more sides from this side of the Pennines in Super League the better!

I haven't actually made any solid predictions in this piece but I've obviously decided not much will change in the league table this year in terms of the general positions in the table. I've no doubt that will turn out to be garbage, because I'm the worlds worst predictor! Whatever happens I just hope the standard of the whole competition gets better because it has been going backwards for some time now in my view. The poor play off games have been highlighting that big time! Still, its better than nowt! Bring on Sunday!

Ps yes I know it's not Eric Lauaki but Epalahame is such a spell checker name - so I vote we call him Eric!!

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