This was Rugby League at it's quality best. A barnstorming 80
minutes between two sides who gave their all and perhaps this time
it really was a dress rehearsal for a Wembley or Grand Final to
come? Ok the result didn't go Wigan's way in the end but I actually
came away feeling we had so many positives to take forward out of
Having shoehorned myself into the worlds worst commentary box,
with leg room that would make dwarfs suffer, I was chatting pre
match on Wish FM about the faith shown in youngsters between the
Tony Smith became Warrington coach in March 2009 and yet for all
that time, Warrington only played one academy produced player in
this match that he has given a debut to. For the record that was 18
year old Ben Currie.
Wigan meanwhile named a team that has seen Josh Charnley, Sam
Powell, Logan Tomkins, Dom Crosby, Greg Burke, Jack Hughes, Chris
Tuson, Tom Spencer and George Williams come through during that
same time frame.
Now don't get me wrong. We all know had Blake Green, Ben Flower,
Mike McIlorum, Sean O'Loughlin, Eric Lauaki, Gil Dudson or Scott
Taylor been fit they would have been fighting to get in the team,
but the point I'm making is that this was a huge leap for Wigan
going forward, comparing the two sides experience.
The average age of the Warrington side was 29.2, which compared
to just 22.7 for Wigan. That averages out at 6 and half years more
experience a man more that us. That's a hell of a difference. So
for us to go toe to toe with them for almost 80 minutes has to be
taken as a huge positive.
Especially when it wasn't like we lost it by doing something
dumb. Neither did we lose it because we lost the pack battle, which
has been the case against Warrington in recent years. I think you
just have to hold your hands up and say that was a classy winning
try produced by Chris Riley. Nice clever idea to kick inside and
sometimes the bounce of the ball just doesn't go your way. Mick
Higham claimed it and I think he was massive in the last few
minutes. A real late boost of the bench.
At the end of the day however, no one could have argued if Wigan
had scored to win this 18-10. It was that close a contest and again
to have competed so well considering the vast difference in
experience was very pleasing indeed.
Apart from Ben Harrison perhaps, that was a first choice pack
for Warrington with their most experienced props actually being on
the interchange bench. Their four front rowers (Chris Hill, Paul
Wood, Adrian Morley and Garreth Carvell) had a combined over 1,000
appearances between them.
This compared to about 170 combined between Lee Mossop, Dom
Crosby and Tom Spencer. Greg Burke did end up propping as well but
he started at Loose Forward. Ironically Burke was aged just 2 when
Morley made his debut for Leeds way back in 1994/95.
The duo of Crosby and Burke really showed up here for me though.
They will never have played a game of this intensity in their
careers but stood up really well. That Crosby break was worth the
admission money alone. At one point second half it was those two
leading the line with Mossop and Spencer being joined by Harrison
Hansen on the sideline. You don't often see H take a breather but
doing the Wish FM commentary I had a good view of the touchline and
he was breathing like a 90 year old asthmatic when he came off,
he'd given that much to the cause.
Ironic thing about Crosby though was that he was only picked up
by Wigan age 19. He had spent most of his junior rugby with Hindley
before St Pats took him up late on where he got spotted. With
current "Under 19s" academy rules, it could easily be argued that
he wouldn't be able to get an opportunity if he was 19 today. He
was very raw at first and got developed after he'd turned 19. That
for me should be a great concern to our sport.
I'm not convinced he would have come on the same playing
sporadic dual-registration and I think we are seeing a lot of prop
forwards being late developers these days. James Greenwood is
a good example last season but I sadly fear the academy rule
changes will stop him making it if I'm honest and it's not his
fault. I fear playing for South Wales isn't a good enough standard
for him but only time will tell on that though.
Back to this match though and I think the conclusion for us is
that it wasn't not a night for "unused substitute". It's easy to
suggest, in hindsight, that we could have thrown George Williams on
but I'm not convinced it was what we needed. That "unused" spot was
crying out for another prop forward but clearly we didn't have any
fit enough to play. To have only one prop on your bench when they
had two very experienced forwards was tough.
Also, we'd actually gone down to 14 men in affect after Jack
Hughes and Lee Mososp had left the field injured during the last
twenty minutes. That meant Burke was left out there despite looking
a bit jelly-legged for me because we just didn't have the numbers
left to interchange. Worth noting also that Spencer was heavily
strapped round the hamstring. Basically, they were blowing out
their arses them forwards and you simply cannot ask for more than
what they gave!
The biggest positive perhaps out of this game was that we might
just well have sorted a centre conundrum. Iain Thornley was the
last man standing to have played every game for us this season
but his absence here gave Anthony Gelling his first opportunity to
play in the centres and the general consensus is that he took it.
Thornley's defensive issues have been quite clear, with Waney
substituting him off quite ruthlessly at both Hull and Wakefield,
but it wasn't just defence that Gelling was strong. I thought he
was holding the ball up well at times and showing great strength to
try and get the offload way. Took his try well also, nice dummy to
leave Brett Hodgson flapping. Baring in mind he hasn't been playing
any reserve grade action this year, that was quite a switched on
effort from him. I think we'll have to see how he combines well
with Pat in flowing play but this wasn't a night for that to be
tested too much with Warrington's defence being so good.
So not a good result obviously but I think the performance was
one we will take a huge amount out of. I'm excited to see how we go
when we finally get Blake Green back because he will compliment
Smith's excellent kick game magnificently. I've said time and again
that the kicking game was our ultimate downfall last season but
Smith is stepping up to the plate in that department and ultimately
that's what helped us compete in this match. Not often you can come
out a loss with so much excitement to go forward with but I'm
buzzing for the end of the season rally after watching that!
(Will add story of the match at some point later).