League Express editor MARTYN SADLER previews Wigan Warriors’ 2019 season with coach ADRIAN LAM
NEW Wigan coach Adrian Lam has a hard act to follow, while he also has a hard act following behind him.
Outgoing Wigan coach Shaun Wane won every trophy that was available to him after taking over the reins from Michael Maguire in 2012 and remaining in charge for seven seasons, while Wigan legend Shaun Edwards is waiting in the wings to take over the head-coaching job in 2020, after his contract with the Welsh Rugby Union expires.
A former PNG national coach, and currently an assistant to Kangaroos coach Mal Meninga, Lam has returned to the club he represented at halfback for four years from 2001 to 2004. Back then he played 119 matches, scoring 44 tries, kicking three goals and ten field-goals.
A hugely creative player, it is hardly surprising that he is keen to emphasise Wigan’s attacking skills in 2019, which perhaps explains why the Warriors have snapped up former London Broncos halfback Jarrod Sammut, who will miss the first game of suspension through injury.
Lam is in the unusual position of knowing that he will only hold the reins for a single season, regardless of his achievement in 2019. If nothing else, it means that the Wigan players won’t have time to get bored with their coach.
“When I accepted the role I was excited because it was only twelve months,” says Lam. “I have never wanted to do any longer than that. So I have taken a different approach to pre-season because I don’t have a second season to fall back on.”
And perhaps the biggest change will be in the coaching philosophy that Lam will bring to the club.
“The word I used to describe the style of football I want us to play was ‘flamboyant’, he says.
“It’s a fine line when you think about a style of rugby. When you are winning a Grand Final the supporters may be happy but not over-excited by the style you play to win that trophy.
“Of course as a coach I’m hoping to get to that level. And we are unlikely to play too expansively in the first quarter of the year, given the difficult conditions. But certainly as the pitches dry up I have the players who can play an expansive style of rugby.
“We also have Zak Hardaker and now we have Jarrod Sammut, both of whom will fit comfortably into the style of rugby I want us to play.”
One of the issues facing Lam is the question of leadership among the playing squad.
“With the loss of Sam Tomkins, John Bateman and Ryan Sutton we have lost up to a thousand games of experience, but I don’t really want to talk about them any more, given that they are heading in a new direction,” he says.
“The coaching staff here have focused on developing a new leadership group, although I haven’t yet decided what that group will be. I have a pretty good idea, though. But I will have a clearer view in the new year.”
Lam will no doubt be hoping that he will be able to keep his captain Sean O’Loughlin on the field, given that his skipper is now 36 years old and has a recent history of troublesome calf injuries.
“Sean has signed for one year and I imagine this may be his last year,” says Lam.
“His presence on the field at training is important to us. In fact I believe a half-fit Sean O’Loughlin is better than having no Sean O’Loughlin at all. He is a great leader and the young players look up to him and respect him greatly.
“I recall playing with him when I was a Wigan player. His debut was against St Helens, I believe, and if I’m honest I find it hard to believe he is still playing.”
Another problem that Lam will have to deal with – although it’s a problem many other coaches would love to have – is the sheer depth of talent at the DW Stadium. With the squad list extending to 36 players, there is strong competition for places, but inevitably some players will be disappointed to lose out on selection.
On the wings, for example, they have Tom Davies, Dom Manfredi, Joe Burgess and Liam Marshall contending for the two available positions.
That means that Wigan are likely to continue their dual-registration agreement with Swinton, while they will also be able to send players on loan to neighbouring clubs.
“Those issues are largely dealt with by Kris Radlinski, but we have already got one or two players on loan at Leigh,” confirms Lam.
“I think everyone understands the situation at Wigan. It will be a tough job to pick the side, but I’ve come into the job with no preconceived ideas and I guess that is the attractive thing for the players. I’m a new coach and everyone will be putting their best foot forward.
“People may write us off with losing so many senior players but I think we still have a very good squad. I certainly know that I haven’t come here just to do okay, but to do well and the club has put its support behind me.”
The Warriors’ squad recently visited Milton Keynes to meet the Red Bull Formula One team, which has a sponsorship role with Wigan.
“They are a massive organisation and we had some sessions with them and learned a lot about the importance of attention to detail and the importance of teamwork in a different environment,” says Lam.
“That’s why the relationship is great. They are a billion dollar company and the relationship works superbly.
“The other notable aspect of our pre-season is that we have only been in for three or four weeks. The teams that didn’t make the semi finals have much longer to prepare for the new season. We only got our international players back on 17 December.
“We will be hading to a camp in the Lake District for three days to bring everyone together after Christmas and get them focused on the new season. Obviously we may find the weather will be difficult, but it could be like that throughout February.”
2019 SQUAD: 1 Morgan Escaré, 2 Tom Davies, 3 Dan Sarginson, 4 Oliver Gildart, 5 Joe Burgess, 6 George Williams, 7 Thomas Leuluai, 8 Tony Clubb, 9 Sam Powell, 10 Ben Flower, 11 Joe Greenwood, 12 Liam Farrell, 13 Sean O’Loughlin, 14 Romain Navarrete, 15 Willie Isa, 16 Gabe Hamlin, 17 Liam Marshall, 19 Taulima Tautai, 20 Zak Hardaker, 21 Dom Manfredi, 22 Joe Bullock, 23 Chris Hankinson, 24 Oliver Partington, 25 Craig Mullen, 26 Josh Woods, 27 Jake Shorrocks, 28 Jack Wells, 29 Liam Paisley, 30 Josh Ganson, 31 Liam Forsyth, 32 Samuel Kibula, 33 Callum Field, 34 Caine Barnes, 35 James Worthington, 36 Liam Byrne, 37 Jarrod Sammut
INS: Joe Greenwood (Gold Coast Titans – June 2018), Zak Hardaker (Castleford Tigers), Joe Bullock (Barrow Raiders), Chris Hankinson (Swinton Lions – July 2018), Jarrod Sammut (London Broncos)
OUTS: Sam Tomkins (Catalans Dragons), Joel Tomkins (Hull Kingston Rovers – June 2018), John Bateman (Canberra Raiders), Ryan Sutton (Canberra Raiders), Frank-Paul Nu’uausala (Sydney Roosters – February 2018), Jack Higginson (Leigh Centurions), Joe Bretherton (Toulouse Olympique), Caine Barnes (Workington Town – one-year loan), Macauley Davies (retired), Josh Woods (Leigh Centurions – one-year loan),
Friday 18 January: London Skolars (won 34-6) (Honourable Artillery Company, 2.00pm)
Sunday 20 January: Salford Red Devils (won 18-28) (A, 2.00pm)
Saturday 26 January: Barrow Raiders (drew 18-18) (A, 3.00pm)
Rugby Director: Kris Radlinski
Head Coach: Adrian Lam
Assistant Coach: John Winder
Head of Strength and Conditioning: Paul Johnson
Head of Youth/Academy Coach: Mick Cassidy
Welfare and Education Manager: Steve McCormack
Head of Medical and Physiotherapy: Tom O’Malley
Senior Physio: Jack Stropford
Home Kit: Cherry and White Hoops
Away Kit: Navy and Processed Cyan