End of 2015 Season Blog.
Posted by Bilko on December 15 2015 - 00:29
Work commitments have meant that I haven't had much to offer this website in recent times. I hope to commit to a weekly midweek blog next year though. Hope you enjoy this one in the mean time.

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So near but yet so very far away from being Champions is how I would sum up Wigan in 2015.

Reality saw Wigan just milliseconds away from being league leaders and then narrowly losing the Grand Final at Old Trafford but I think we ultimately fell way short of those ambitions.

On one hand losing both those honours to Leeds was not too bad. Yes we may have contested the previous two Grand Finals before this year but it was still a young squad we had, particularly when compared to the vast experience of the Leeds outfit.

On that other hand though Iíd point to seven performances away from home where our standards were simply not good enough for a side hoping to be champions.

Those seven games being the two trips to Leeds, the two to St Helens and the matches at Castleford, Catalan and the first visit to Warrington. The aggregate score in those games was 216-98. Way off and those seven performance are why we fell short at Old Trafford.

To win on the big stage you have to be going into backyards like those and gaining at least a couple of good results. What we did is fail consistently on those big stages. Regular coach trips home with sour faces after defeat canít be good. It certainly demoralised a lot of fans last season and itís hard to imagine it not being the same for the players.

The fact we couldnít win away at the big venues was, I think, the biggest reason we fell short in the end. Fair enough you couldnít fault our form at the DW but the belief would have been ten times greater had we produced that form away. I do note by the way that we did get a great 28-0 win at Warrington in late August but Wire were demoralised beyond belief by then and taking nothing away form Wigan that night, it probably did say a lot more about who them than us.

I donít normally dwell when we suffer big final defeats, because Iíve enjoyed my team having so many good times, but the last fifteen minutes at Old Trafford has been irking me since the season ended.

I havenít looked back at any tape but my memory was that we never even got out of our own half in that final period of the game, when we needed to score. Was that credit to Leeds just swamping all over us or was their a total lack of urgency from Wigan?

Iím convinced Leeds in that position would have gone direct, straight up the middle, with fast pace, to at least try and milk a penalty. After all, a penalty goal was all Wigan needed to level the game but you have no chance if you donít get into at least goal kicking range. To not at least getting into that kind of field territory was a massive failure in my eyes.

Those final fifteen minutes really showed up Wiganís inexperience in my view. Three Grand Finals in a row may look like plenty of experience but only Matty Smith, Sean OíLoughlin, Liam Farrell and Dom Crosby played in all three finals. Ben Flower technically did so as well but we all know he missed the majority of the 2014 final. So itís not like itís been the same side coming back in hot form every year and failing. That really would worry me but this is still a developing side I feel.

Next year though we surely should expect the patience to bare fruit. I mean, finally, the squad is pretty settled and that should be massive bonus. It canít have been easy to go into 2014 having lost Pat Richards, Harrison Hansen, Sam Tomkins and Lee Mossop. Then going into 2015 needing to bed in a rookie half back like George Williams whilst having a key prop like Ben Flower suspended for quite a while. I donít think the unplanned for loss of reserve rugby helped Wigan through the last couple of years either.

Yes Sam Tomkins is returning but he is well versed in Wiganís culture and ethics. The only other incoming is Willie Isa and itís not like he does have to settle in having moved from down under. Everyone is here already and most are going to benefit from a full off and pre season.

For those reasons then we should expect a far better start to next season that we got in 2015. Sam will be an obvious loss early in the year but we gain the benefit of the matches Oli Gildart, Dom Manfredi and George Williamsí got last year. They go into 2016 as bone-fide members of the squad rather than ones hoping to get into the team. Thatís massive!

In fact the ones with most to prove are Josh Charnley and Anthony Gelling. They got the biggest kick up the back side you can get late last year and I think most Wigan fans are on board in thinking they got what they deserved in being dropped.

Charnley looked miles away last year. Itís amazing that a player who has claimed 140 tries in 141 matches for Wigan can have a thousand question marks thrown at him but that is the reality.

I really do wonder if he just burnt out because he just seemed to hit a brick wall. Dom Manfredi put him under pressure and Josh didnít look like he had any energy to give any answers. His career and pace of play has been 100 miles an hour from the start but he has never really benefited from a good off season.

He played the most games of anyone in the 2013 double winning year before being involved in a long World Cup. Then in 2014 he suffered a bad injury at Dewsbury in the cup tie before coming back and then being involved in a England Tour down under. This left him rolling into 2015 with little break and I think, or wonder, if all that caught up with him as the year wore on.

I think him being dropped by not only Wigan, but also England, will be the best thing to happen to him. Heís now had a long break and he enters 2016 with plenty to prove. Budgie leaving basically gives Charnley his place back and I hope him and Sam will be in the kind of form at the end of the year that saw them claim 77 tries between them in 2013. That will be a big factor in our seasons prospects.

As for Gelling, well those who listen to me on the radio will know I made no secret of my anger at his performances in September before he got dropped.

Offloading a metre from his own line whilst defending a 26-24 lead with less than ten minutes to go against Hull saw me banging the desk in front of me but when he did the same thing, this time costing a try, at Saints a week later, I donít know how I didnít swear on air.

Gelling is a fan favourite to some but, for me, itís for the wrong reasons. Blocking a penalty goal attempt and producing an amusing video in response to Warringtonís Chris Sandow fail was genius amusement but I want to see him produce the goods on the field.

It was a shame when he tore his hamstring at Wakefield in April because his form was fantastic but you always ask the question with him about whether he can be trusted. After that fail at Saints he was immediately substituted and then dropped for a 19 year old in Gildart that, at the time, had played only four first team matches. That spoke massive volumes considering it was heading into the climax of the season.

Gelling isnít a potential anymore, next year will be fifth season with us, and he really needs to start producing the goods consitently every week because the next Oli Gildart will come out the Under 19s pretty quickly if he doesnít. Iím a massive fan of Jack Higginson for example and I hope to see him get some game time next year.

I think Lee Mossop is another who we should expect improvement from next year. He admitted himself that his form had been disappointing but fans probably donít appreciate that the hassle of emigrating down under in the 2013/14 off season before then moving back in the 2014/15 off season canít have been easy for him. A good rest and a full pre season should do him the world of good.

All in all though, I think Wigan have a massive opportunity next year. Whilst I don't seem much altering at the top, Leeds should find the going far tougher without Kevin Sinfield and Jamie Peacock and I see a chance for Wigan or Saints (because they too have a young squad despite winning 2014 title) to take over as the top team the rest will have to chase.

Wigan don't need to dwell on the Grand Final failure too much but they do need to learn the lessons from the entire season like I highlighted earlier in this piece.

The reality of Old Trafford was that Wigan had a good twenty minute blitz after half time, the rest of the game was all Leeds. That was symptomatic of a lot of matches last year, at home as well. We had good spells in games but ultimately not often good games in their entirety. The trips to Saints, Warrington, Leeds, Catalan and Castleford are going to be massive indicators of whether we can find an inner steel that will give us the belief to be a strong outfit on a more consistent basis.

Itís a damn shame that none of those matches fall early, in fact four of those away days fall after Round 12, but the fixture list is what it is. I hope that when champions Leeds visit on March 11th that we are in the top four with a good performance against Brisbane under our belt. I think where we sit after that night will be a good indicator for next season.

Iím really intrigued to see how we get on. I think we will get better this year because of age and experience more than anything. We donít want to be remembered for losing Grand Finals but perhaps we should recall how patient Leeds had to be before winning the first of their many Grand Finals in 2004?

When I talk about patience, I offer this stat. Kevin Sinfield retired this year as a god in Leeds having played through a period which saw them win seven Grand Finals, two Challenge Cups and three World Club Challenges. But no one will remember when they look back that Sinfield made 182 appearances before lifting his first silverware at Old Trafford in 2004.

Only Sean OíLoughlin, Micky McIlorum and Joel Tomkins have played more than 182 times for Wigan. Yet we still have been knocking on the door. I think weíve every right to expect a trophy in 2016, but I think this squad also has the right to have been afforded patience. That patience shouldn't be afforded next year though. Hopefully itís going to all come together. We shall see.