I must admit to feeling a daft now for the article I wrote in mid
August talking about the flagging morale of Wigan's support base
and how massive Wembley was for this club going forward. But I
still stand by it. That's how it was at the time and now less than
two months on we are in dreamland celebrating a league and cup
Shaun Wane has made mugs of a lot of people with his
decisions to take it easy in the league during July and August but
he played this season to absolute perfection. We won all the games
that mattered and in some style as well.
I think Wane has been highly underestimated by many. I say that
because, whilst I've been doing this website since 2002, Wane has
been coming through the coaching ranks at Wigan and I've seen the
difference he's made.
Put it this way. In 2002 and 2003 when I first started Wigan
were giving youngsters opportunities like we do today. Shaun
Briscoe, Stephen Wild, Martin Aspinwall, Luke Robinson, Kevin
Brown, Stuart Jones, Gareth Hock, Dave Allen, Bryn Hargreaves, Bob
Beswick and Ricky Bibey are all examples.
Now you can argue that it was harsh that Wigan had got rid of
pretty much all those players not long after that period but when
you check the harsh reality - most of them didn't move on to win
Most of that list should sit down today with big regret. The
regret being that they didn't come through a year or two later when
Shaun Wane started coaching at the academy level. Because I believe
that was a list of players with plenty of ability BUT they didn't
get the mental strength instilled into them that many players have
had under the guidance of Shaun Wane.
Sam Tomkins, Iain Thornley, Lee Mossop, Mike McIlorum and Liam
Farrell in particular all came through the academy set up alongside
Wane - and they were all out there on that field last Saturdays. So
mentally strong, full of belief.
Now I've no inside knowledge or input behind the scenes at
Wigan, but Wane should have got far more credit for the two
trophies won under Michael Maguire, when he was assistant coach.
Madge took a ton of credit for that success, but I'm convinced that
we wouldn't have had that success without Wane.
His speech after this game epitomises what he is all about. The
guy bleeds cherry & white like all us fans do. All those players
there, hanging on his every word. It's a great moment that,
captured by the Wigan Observer.
What made this win so sweeter though was how we all felt after
28 minutes when Wigan trailed 16-2. Was chatting to long time forum
moderator "Jack the Biscuit" in the Anvil afterwards on Saturday
Night and he was telling me that he'd never experienced a final
like that one. Coming back from the absolute dead. This for me
further highlights the qualities of Wane. He has those players
keeping hold of the mental belief and despite being down that far,
they never looked like collapsing, which I'm confident would have
happened under Brian Noble for example.
And it was a funny lead wasn't it. Because I don't think we'd
played too badly in the opening minutes. It was just that in just a
whirlwind 6 minutes and 48 seconds, we'd gone from leading 2-0 to
being 14 behind.
Take those minutes away and I think he dominated the contest. Of
course the two injuries to first Joel Monaghan and Stefan Ratchford
played a huge part in the comeback, BUT it has to be remembered
that Wigan were already well on the fight back when Ratchford left
the field. We'd got back to 16-12 by then and I believe we would
still have gone on to win that game, even if Ratchford had stayed
on the field.
The blunt truth was that Warrington tired out for old age. Nine
of that Warrington team on Saturday played in the 2009 Cup Semi
Final that they won against us back then. Wigan had just four
players who played that day.
Remember I talked about the mental belief instilled at Academy
Level? Well Warrington's team on Saturday included ZERO players
that had come through their academy and been given a debut by Tony
Smith. None at all. That's the ultimate difference. Shaun Wane has
given our own academy bred youth a chance time and time again and
whilst not all of those playing for us on Saturday were coached by
Wane, they still are coming through with that same belief instilled
in them AND that is why they are winners!
Tony Smith has stuck with the same players for five seasons now
and the only major incomings have been players brought from outside
their academy. Don't get me wrong. losing in two Grand Finals is a
massive achievement for them because that club was nowhere near
that standard when he came in, but when I look at the youngsters
they've given opportunities to, none of them have really pushed a
top player out of his position. Zero debuts under Tony Smith
playing in that final, proves the point. And that comes back to the
difference in mentality that we have instilled here.
For now let us all bask in the glory. One think this double has
done has stopped fans worrying about Sam Tomkins leaving. Probably
only for now, but keep the faith! We have some quality in that
Under 19s side and they, by winning the Under 19s Grand Final, are
proving they have the same mental belief. Only time will tell if
that converts to top level!