Wigan’s strange lack of motivation

Almost immediately after the final hooter of the game between St Helens and Wigan last Friday night, I went onto Twitter and posted the following tweet: “It’s hard to imagine a more comprehensive victory, 26-2 by St Helens against their old rivals Wigan Warriors. It’s hard to remember a more toothless Wigan attack and a less disciplined performance. Tough to watch for their fans!”

Sometimes, when I’ve had time to reflect on a game, I modify my initial impression, especially when I hear the reaction from both sides.

But in this case it’s impossible to do that.

We had all been looking forward to this game – the first Wigan-Saints derby since the first Covid lockdown to be played in front of an unrestricted crowd. We expected a fast, highly skilled game between the two sides that had contested last season’s Grand Final, which went down to the final second when Jack Welsby scored that amazing try to clinch the title for St Helens.

Wigan were admittedly missing some key players. In squad number order they included (1) Bevan French, who is out for the season, (2) Dom Manfredi, who recently announced his retirement, (7) Thomas Leuluai, who could also be out for the season, (9) Sam Powell, who was missing because of a head-injury assessment seven days earlier against the Catalans.

And they never replaced their intended number 8, George Burgess, which is a decision that now looks highly questionable.

In contract, St Helens were missing (2) Tommy Makinson, who is suspended, and (7) Theo Fages, who is out for the season, although that gave an opportunity to start the game to Lewis Dodd.

So in terms of available personnel, Wigan were clearly at a disadvantage, but not a massive one, although. I suspect that if we could total up the salary cap value of the matchday 17s that took to the field, St Helens’ total would be significantly in excess of Wigan’s.

Nonetheless, when the sides came out prior to the kick-off I sensed that it might not be Wigan’s night.

For some reason, the Wigan players didn’t look to be in the zone.

John Bateman in particular looked to be almost distracted, as though he had something else on his mind, but he wasn’t the only one.

Bateman’s arrival back at Wigan had been intended to be a triumphant return to the scene of his earlier brilliance, but he has yet to consistently display the form that made a target for the Canberra Raiders.

Even Jackson Hastings was unable to fire the Wigan attack against St Helens.

And as for Willie Isa, it’s funny how a player can just lose his cool in a game.

Isa was a liability, conceding penalties, being sinbinned and being put on report for an incident that will probably result in a suspension.

He has since been suspended for four matches and has issued an apology for his performance aimed at his team-mates, the Wigan supporters and the St Helens players.

That’s good to see, but at the time I found it difficult to understand why he wasn’t pulled off the field by the Wigan coach Adrian Lam.

And I found it even more strange to witness the complete lack of attacking capability that Wigan demonstrated.

They have quite a young side, and a couple of years ago I would have predicted that all those players would by now have become established Super League stars at the highest level. But instead some of them seem to have reached a plateau, and their progress has stalled.

They urgently need to make me eat these words, and a good time to start would be against Leeds Rhinos this Wednesday night.