Wigan finished the 2016 season as Super League Champions. As the 2017 season is only a couple of weeks away, I thought we should look at how the reigning Champions got on in pre-season.
Now, in my opinion, the pre-season schedule in rugby league is pointless. They play around four games each and in Wigan’s case, only two was used to give first team players some game time, and even then, they got around 40 minutes per game. Wigan had friendlies against London Skolars, Leigh Centurions, Swinton Lions and Catalan Dragons. As I watched each game, I thought I’d do a little rundown of each one, giving my thoughts on each.
First friendly: London Skolars 26-22 Wigan Select XIII
This was the first game of pre-season, and Kyle Shelford and Caine Barnes were the only First Team squad players included for the Wigan Select XIII. Wigan has many debutants, one of which was England Academy international Joe Brown who joined recently following his release by Bradford. Wigan struggled in the first half, as Skolars had both a size and numerical advantage. They ran in three first half tries, and looked to be in full control of the middles with their big forward line.
They started the second half just as good, going over for another two tries in the opening 10 minutes to lead 26-6. However, Wigan then started to play some rugby, and would not only keep Skolars out for the rest of the game, but nearly nicked it late on. With 15 minutes to go, there was a scuffle on the pitch, which saw Aaron Small and Joe Pilling sent off. In the last 30 minutes, Wigan ran in four unanswered tries. However, two missed conversions cost them a great comeback.
London Skolars – 26
Tries: Nash, Mbarga, Driver, Bryan, Bishay
Goals: Bishay 2/4, Lawrence 1/1
Wigan Select XIII – 22
Tries: Barran, Brown 2, Grant, Maloney
Goals: Russell 1/1, Smith 0/2, Brown 0/1, Barran 0/1
London Skolars: Jake Melling, Sam Nash, Aaron Small, Lameck Juma, Jimmy Hill, Mike Bishay, Charlie Lawrence, Louis Robinson, Billy Driver, Dave Williams, Lamont Bryan, Eddie Mbarga and Ryan Chester.
Interchange: Will Fairhurst, Kazeem Fatorch, Mike Greenhalgh, Michael Sykes, Will Martin, Calum Whitcombe, Dan Wazouh, John Allinson and John Parton.
Wigan Select XIII: Craig Mullen, Joe Brown, James Barran, James Worthington, Sam Grant, Harry Smith, Oliver Russell, Caine Barnes, Callum Wood, Kyle Shelford, Joe Pilling, Liam Paisley and Paddy Casey.
Interchange: Nico Rizelli, Oliver Partington, Liam Byrne, Aiden Roden, Tom Maloney, Nathaniel Marshall and Sammy Kibula.
Second friendly: Leigh Centurions 50-10 Wigan Warriors
In what was Michael McIlorum’s Testimonial game, Wigan named new signings Morgan Escaré and Romain Navarrete, while the returning Tommy Leuluai also got his first game back in a Wigan shirt. Ahead of their return to Super League, Leigh gave a first run out to eight new recruits, which included former Warrior Ryan Hampshire. First half was a decent affair, while scattered with errors from both sides, it was a good game to watch. Wigan would respond well to going 6-0 down, by scoring two great tries through Leuluai and Gildart. Those were to be the last points they’d score all game.
In the second half, Wigan would give many young players a run out, while giving the experienced players a rest. This would cost them as the young lads would go on to be taught a real lesson. Leigh ran in seven second half tries, which included a Corey Paterson hat-trick. Leigh were in full flow as the young Wigan side struggled to cope with their fluid attack. It wasn’t great to be sat in the stands watching that second half, and it’s games like this, that make me question pre-season friendlies.
Leigh Centurions – 50
Tries: Crooks 2, Paterson 3, Tickle, Acton, Clare, Reynolds
Goals: Reynolds 7/9
Wigan Warriors – 10
Tries: Leuluai, Gildart
Goals: Escaré 1/2
Referee: Gareth Hewer
Leigh Centurions: Ryan Hampshire, Adam Higson, Ben Crooks, Mitch Brown, Matty Dawson, Ben Reynolds, Josh Drinkwater, Gareth Hock, Liam Hood, Antoni Maria, Cory Paterson, Glenn Stewart and Harrison Hansen.
Interchange: Eloi Pelissier, James Green, Jamie Acton, Sam Hopkins, Gregg McNally, Atelea Vea, Danny Tickle and James Clare.
Wigan Warriors: Morgan Escaré, Tom Davies, Anthony Gelling, Oliver Gildart, Liam Marshall, George Williams, Thomas Leuluai, Ryan Sutton, Sam Powell, Frank-Paul Nuuausala, Connor Farrell, Macauley Davies and Sean O’Loughlin.
Interchange: Jake Shorrocks, Lewis Tierney, Romain Navarrete, Callum Field, Joe Bretherton, Josh Ganson, Liam Forsyth and Josh Woods.
Third friendly: Swinton Lions 44-6 Wigan Select XIII
Wigan made a few changes to the team that lost at London Skolars with Callum Woods, Nathaniel Marshall and Kyle Shelford dropping out. However, the Warriors only added Sam Adejumo, which meant they only played with six substitutes. Swinton fielded a few familiar faces with former Wigan players Jack Murphy, Rob Lever, Ben Austin and Luke Waterworth all named in the Lions side. Just like their first friendly, this young Wigan side struggled with the strength and experience of their opponents. Lions would run in five first half tries, which was split by a full-length effort from Wigan’s Joe Brown.
The second half was a much slower, struggle of a game. Both sides making errors and it all just got a little sloppy. However, with their experience and skill, it was the Lions who made their chances count, running in another four tries to seal the deal and complete a comprehensive win over a young Wigan side. Both Wigan Select XIII games will be a real learning curve for the academy players and coach, Matty Peet. They would have learned a lot from them and losing by so much, in both, won’t affect them too much for the season ahead.
Swinton Lions – 44
Tries: Robinson 2, White 2, Hankinson, Kenny, Gardner, Atkin, Butt
Goals: Hankinson 1/3, Atkins 3/6
Wigan Select XIII – 6
Tries: Joe Brown
Goals: Harry Smith 1/1
Swinton Lions: Jack Murphy, Shaun Robinson, Chris Hankinson, Matt Gardner, Mike Butt, Ben White, Grant Gore, Rob Lever, Sean Kenny, Jordan Hand, Connor Dwyer, Oliver Davies and Andy Thornley.
Interchange: Ben Austin, Anthony Bate, Chris Atkin, Luke Waterworth and Josh Houghton.
Wigan Select XIII: Craig Mullen, Joe Brown, James Barran, James Worthington, Sam Grant, Harry Smith, Oliver Russell, Caine Barnes, Paddy Casey, Liam Byrne, Joe Pilling, Liam Paisley and Oliver Partington.
Interchange: Nico Rizelli, Sam Adejumo, Tom Maloney, Aidan Roden, Aiden Sutton and Sammy Kibula.
Fourth friendly: Catalan Dragons 22-26 Wigan Warriors
Joel Tomkins made his first appearance in seven months, while Joe Burgess started on the wing on his Wigan return after a year in the NRL. First-year players Liam Forsyth, Josh Ganson, Callum Field, Kyle Shelford and Josh Woods featured for Wigan as well as Tom Davies and Liam Marshall. Former St Helens half-back Luke Walsh started for the Dragons, with new recruit Greg Bird also starting at loose forward. This was to be the most telling friendly for Wigan fans, as it was the last before the start of the season. With Wigan naming their strongest side in pre-season, a lot was expected. The first half was all Wigan, it was brilliant to watch at times, especially the partnership of Leuluai and Williams, they clicked straight away. It was the first time you got a chance to see what Escaré would bring to the team, with his quick feet and skill on the ball.
After going 6-0 down early in the game, Wigan responded well, with four unanswered tries, two of which came through the retuning Joe Burgess, who wasted no time in getting back to scoring ways for the Warriors. Liam Marshall would score the try of the half when Escaré broke through, and placed a lovely kick through, which Marshall got on the end of. Just like the first, Catalans started the second half brilliantly. Their ruck speed was too much for Wigan at times, and they were making easy yards. They were rewarded, as they scored two tries through Inu and Yaha to go just two points behind. Wigan responded well, when the 2016 under-19’s Player of the Year, Tom Davies went over for his first try in the first team to put Wigan two tries clear. Catalan would put pressure on Wigan in the final moments when Inu went over for his second try, but Wigan stayed strong and picked up a morale boosting win going into the 2017 season.
Catalans Dragons – 22
Tries: Moa, Inu 2, Yaha
Goals: Walsh 3/4
Wigan Warriors – 26
Tries: Burgess 2, Tierney, Marshall, Davies
Goals: Escaré 2/4, Shorrocks 1/1
Referee: Ben Thaler
Catalans Dragons: Brayden Wiliame, Jodie Broughton, Krisnan Inu, Vincent Duport, Fouad Yaha, Luke Walsh, Richie Myler, Julian Bousquet, Alrix Da Costa, Sam Moa, Benjamin Garcia, Justin Horo and Greg Bird.
Interchange: Tony Gigot, Remi Casty, Jason Baitieri, Luke Burgess, Matthieu Khedimi, Mickael Simon and Paul Seguier.
Wigan Warriors: Morgan Escaré, Lewis Tierney, Anthony Gelling, 20. Liam Forsyth, Joe Burgess, George Williams, Tommy Leuluai, Ryan Sutton, Sam Powell, Frank-Paul Nuuausala, John Bateman, Liam Farrell and Sean O’Loughlin.
Interchange: Josh Ganson, Ben Flower, Kyle Shelford, Tom Davies, Joe Bretherton, Callum Field, Josh Woods, Romain Navarrete, Liam Marshall, Jake Shorrocks and Joel Tomkins.