So Jackson Hastings has finally been spotted in Wigan – and given all the speculation over whether he was having second thoughts about his switch from Salford, that will have come as a relief to the Warriors’ management and supporters alike.
This season is going to be even bigger than usual for Wigan, because given the way their arch-rivals St Helens are looking so strong on the pitch and settled off it, the Warriors can’t afford not to be moving forward themselves.
Back in September, Wigan reported an operating loss of nearly £1.4 million, and while Chairman Ian Lenagan has provided crucial backing, the club needs to get itself on a better financial footing.
The signings of Hastings and George Burgess from South Sydney obviously won’t have come cheap, so the pressure is on coach Adrian Lam to get the most out of those investments.
Such is Wigan’s heritage and stature in the game, winning alone is not enough. They have to do it in style, and with last season’s average attendance dropping to less than 11,500, Lenagan will be desperate to see an improvement on that figure.
Producing entertaining, winning rugby is the key, and I believe Lam has both the coaching experience and the players to provide Saints with some real competition this year.
But it will still be a big challenge, because that dressing room is full of big characters, so Lam has to ensure he is in total control of his players as well as coming up with the right tactics.
There were a few sparks between Hastings and some of the Wigan side when Salford won that second play-off clash back in October, so I’d imagine the first players’ meeting following his arrival was all about clearing the air.
Lam’s man-management skills will be important, because he has to ensure that Hastings quickly settles into his new surroundings and also that all the players are pulling on the same rope.
There have been a few questions asked about the timing of Hastings’ arrival, less the four weeks before the Super League opener against Warrington on Thursday, January 30. And on that subject, I repeat my question of last week. Where is all the hype and build-up to the start of the season?
But I think you have to balance that with the need of last year’s Man of Steel to have a proper rest following a tough season in 2019 and then a Great Britain tour, which all the players must have found heavy going.
It will only become an issue if Wigan suffer a sluggish start to the season. If they soon get into their stride, nobody will be bothered about whether or not Hastings had second thoughts about his move or whether he started training soon enough.
Meanwhile, I’ve seen some comments from Zak Hardaker reading his willingness to play in the centres as Oliver Gildart continues his rehabilitation from injury.
I understand why Hardaker is talking the talk, but please Wigan, don’t make him walk the walk.
Wayne Bennett tried it on the Great Britain tour, and we all know how that worked out, although I don’t put any blame on Hardaker’s shoulders for the Lions’ failures.
He’s an okay centre, but a fine fullback, and that’s where he should be played as he looks to build on an excellent campaign last time around.
Let’s give Jerry our backing
JERMAINE McGILLVARY has a well-deserved testimonial when Huddersfield take on Halifax at the John Smith’s Stadium on Sunday.
And I’d like to take this opportunity to congratulate him on reaching this milestone, and showing real loyalty to his hometown club.
Jermaine is a great winger who has shone on the international stage, particularly in 2017 when he was one of the stars of the World Cup.
He was heavily linked with a move to the NRL, and I should imagine that over the years, plenty of clubs have made a play for him.
He could have taken the opportunity to move, to go for the game’s top honours at club level, and boost his bank balance into the bargain.
But he’s remained at the Giants, even though they’ve been well off the pace in recent times and he hasn’t had the kind of service he would have had with more successful sides.
I think a big part of the reason is the great relationship he has with Ken Davy.
Both of them are claret and gold through and through – Jermaine is a superb ambassador for the Giants – and I hope there’s a decent crowd for his big match.
A dubious benefit
I SEE Leeds Rhinos are on a pre-season training camp in Spain as they continue preparations for the new campaign.
Such trips have been common in recent years, but I’m not totally convinced they provide value for money.
There’s always the potential for friction when players are together without the focus of a match to prepare for.
We saw that when Castleford went to Lanzarote last season, and stories emerged of a bust-up between some members of the squad.
And is there any genuine value in having a week in the sun, then returning to very different conditions back in England. I’m not so sure.
Wembley here we come
THE road to Wembley starts at the weekend.
And while none of the 44 community clubs involved in the first round have a chance of making it to the final, their involvement in the competition will still provide great memories for those involved.
I love the Challenge Cup, as I think most players, both past and present, do.
I just wish the RFL would show it some respect.
Seeing the first-round draw get some coverage on the BBC local news in my area was a start, but much more is needed to reinvigorate what is a Rugby League institution.
I’ve said before that the marketing needs to be far better, but this holds true with every area of our game.
And I’ve also said I would get rid of the ridiculous seeding system of League 1 clubs coming in at round three, Championship at round four and Super League at rounds five and six, depending on last season’s final position.
When I got to the Challenge Cup final with Hull in 1984-85, there were four preliminary-round ties, with Leeds, Salford and Wakefield among the clubs involved.
Everyone else came in for the first round, and I remember we played Carlisle.
Those are the kind of ties that make a Cup competition different, and I’d like to see more of them.
There were far fewer amateur sides involved in those days, and I’ve no objection to increasing the number, because as I say, it provides a great opportunity for players to say they have appeared in the Challenge Cup.
It also provides community clubs, who are crucial for the overall health of the game, with an opportunity to make a bit of money.
Two first-round ties particularly catch the eye – both involving Humberside teams.
Skirlaugh host Hunslet Club Parkside, while there’s a tasty trans-Pennine clash between Pilkington Recs and West Hull.