Warriors crash out of contention
Our preview for the Wigan Warriors’ 2021 season laid down the fact that this is always a club with high ambitions, not least having finished top of the Super League table the previous year and been cruelly denied in the Grand Final.
“Wigan start every season just like St Helens, in that they aim to win every trophy that they compete for,” we wrote.
“Last season they won the League Leaders’ Shield but were beaten on the final hooter in the Grand Final.
“Their recruitment from outside the club has been limited for 2021 and coach Adrian Lam will no doubt be relying on some of his younger stars to come to the fore this season if the Warriors are to challenge once again for the top honours.
“But with John Bateman having stepped into Sean O’Loughlin’s shoes, let no one suppose that they can’t do it.”
What followed was a campaign where Wigan not only failed to lift any honours, but barely challenged for them. They finished fourth in the table – eight points behind Catalans, despite playing two extra games – and were then beaten by Leeds in the first stage of the play-offs, while they were also knocked out of the Challenge Cup at the quarter-final stage.
Five things we learned from Wigan’s season
1 It perhaps proved to be a season too far for Adrian Lam, who was unable to lift the club back to the table-topping heights of 2020. The heartbreaking end to that season may not have helped, nor the lack of fresh blood into the squad subsequently. Injuries, especially to Bevan French and George Burgess, certainly handicapped them as well, but ultimately their year proved a stale one in terms of both results and performances, that failed to excite.
2 That a team with Wigan’s resources and squad should finish a season having scored the fewest points per match of any Super League club – even nearby whipping boys Leigh – is staggering. They failed to score a single try on three occasions in the space of just over a month at the end of the season and the new coaching team, led by Matt Peet, must unleash some of the potential on their hands.
3 One player who would have made a great difference was Bevan French, but the Australian fullback’s season-ending hamstring injury in May proved a key turning point for the Warriors. His impact and influence was only more notable in his absence, so his return in 2022 will be most welcome, and keeping him fit will be essential if they are to mount a stronger challenge.
4 In a side shorn of great creativity for long periods, Jackson Hastings was crucial to what attacking threat they did have. The departing halfback laid on 18 of their 72 Super League tries (scoring four himself) and those shoes will now need to be filled from elsewhere in the Warriors squad.
5 Another role that Wigan need to fill is that of goalkicker. In 2021 they managed to miss more goals than any other team in the competition, despite scoring so few tries. They kicked just 59.2% of their goal attempts – the next lowest figure was Hull KR’s 68.6% – with Harry Smith and Zak Hardaker equally culpable from the tee.
The Warriors finished in fourth place, with 15 wins and ten defeats across their 25 matches and a winning record of 60%. They scored 387 points and conceded 385, for an average scoreline of 15-15.
It seems so long ago but Wigan were flying high at one stage, winning their first six matches of the season in all competitions. The pick of those performances was their second game of the season against Wakefield Trinity, played at St Helens’ Totally Wicked Stadium on Thursday 1st April, when they were no fools in a 34-6 victory. Jake Bibby scored the first hat-trick of his career among six tries, with Oliver Partington, Zak Hardaker and John Bateman also helping themselves.
Wigan’s winning start in Super League stood at seven matches when they made the trip to a scorching Perpignan on Saturday 29th May. What followed was described by Adrian Lam as a “horror car crash” and an “absolute embarrassment” as Catalans ran eight tries past the wilting Warriors, who also finished with Zak Hardaker sent off, in a 48-0 hammering.
Liam Farrell had another excellent season for his hometown club, continuing to set the standards for the rest to follow. As well as the usual tough shifts in defence, only one player made more metres in the whole of Super League and no second-rower in Super League scored more than Farrell’s nine tries.
Best young player
This was a mightily impressive breakthrough season for Joe Shorrocks, with the 21-year-old loose forward an ever-present in all competitions for the Warriors while winning the Top Tackler award in Super League. He brought down 833 opponents over the course of the year.
Best overseas player
His previous full seasons in England might have both brought Grand Final appearances but Wigan’s failure to reach that stage again was no fault of Jackson Hastings, who will be missed at the DW Stadium as he returns to Australia with Wests Tigers.
Try of the year
Wigan’s attacking potential was on show in April with some excellent tries against Castleford, the best involving brilliant vision and execution from Jackson Hastings with a kick over the top for Bevan French to run on to and score.
Quote of the year
“I wouldn’t be the person I am today without Rugby League. I’m just disappointed it’s not ended on my terms, but I know I’ve given everything possible. There’s not one more percent I could have given. I’m finishing with no regrets – I’ve done everything I can. I’m just gutted.
“You take things from being in those dark places during your career. I’ve learned from past experiences that I will overcome it; I will get better and I will be alright – that’s what gets me through it and that’s what’s going to get me through this.
“I can’t thank the Wigan fans enough. I’ve got a close bond with them all. I have a lot of respect for them. They’ve been unbelievable supporting me down the years through everything and I just want to say thank you. I want to thank all the staff and players too. They’ve all been there for me.
“Rollercoaster is an understatement to describe my Rugby League career. It’s been up and down a few times but, on the whole, I’ve loved every minute. I’d do it all again, despite what it’s done to my body. It’s been worth it.”
Winger Dom Manfredi announcing his immediate retirement from the sport in August after a desperately cruel career with injuries.
Image of the year
Wigan unveiling their new coaching team at the beginning of October, merging the old with the new as Shaun Wane’s return as leadership and management director was revealed along with the new head coach Matt Peet and his assistants Lee Briers and Sean O’Loughlin.
That defeat at Catalans was a hammering that will be hard to forget, and a huge shock that Wigan simply never recovered from as their season promptly fell off the tracks. While such an uncharacteristic defensive collapse was not to be repeated, the ‘nul points’ on the scoreboard would be. Having travelled with a perfect record in Super League, the team that returned from France was never the same.
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