A Season With Wigan Warriors – Pre-Season Thoughts.

For me, pre-season began viewing some of the videos put up on Wigan TV showing the team building trips with the Red Bull team and up to Newcastle. Every team looks to shake up what they do before the start of the season and I am certainly not knocking what they did. I’m just not sure the ‘sense of team’ was particularly a problem during the previous season.

Wigan have always seemed to embody their ‘Ancient and Loyal’ motto more than most other clubs. They bring through plenty of their home-grown players and there is no doubt that the club, and the fans, expect that the team will be challenging for all of the top honours in the game every year. There is continuity from the younger age grades through into the senior team and this does allow players to step up into the Super League team when necessary with positive outcomes.

Perhaps herein lies one of Wigan’s biggest problems, however. There is a consistency of style and play, but this means a consistency of tactics which allows the opposition to prepare more easily for the games. They are unlikely to encounter anything out of the ordinary. They just need to be able to front up to it. Injury crisis aside, the opposition teams certainly seemed more able to front up to the Wigan systems in the 2017 season.

A longtime criticism of mine towards the coaching staff has been the consistency of attacking tactics. Michael Maguire introduced, successfully, the attack an edge and then sweep left-right (or right-left) block-plays across the pitch towards the opposite corner and Shaun Wane has continued with it. There seems to be a belief that the system is infallible if the players execute it correctly and that clearly isn’t true.

What makes this system of attack more likely to succeed is the ability of the attacking players to read the defensive shifts and alter the pass to the lead runner rather than the trailing, or blocked, runner. The problem with the block play system is that it becomes over trained and the players stop reading what is in front of them. I’ve seen it for years in Rugby Union sides which ‘drill’ set moves far too frequently.

This is also the reason why I was hoping that Wigan would sign a new half-back who  might bring a little more individuality to proceedings on the pitch and cause defences to have to adjust much more frequently on the fly. Instead, we now have the combination of Williams/Powell/Tomkins who are all indoctrinated in the same attacking system.

(Jumping ahead to the South Sydney game – you could see how easy it was to stop the sweeping block-play system more times than not.)

According to Skipper O’Loughlin, there has been a thorough review of last season focusing on what went wrong and why, but no clues as to the solutions. For me, injuries clearly impacted upon the season, as it did for some other teams. There’s not much you can do about that. Even when the team was stronger, and when it wasn’t, the main problem seemed to be the overall tactics. Each team seemed subjected to the same Wigan tactics, it was very difficult to see that there were different tactics being applied to work on the weaknesses of whoever we were playing.

I know, I’m starting to sound like a broken record now – I will try to get off the whole ‘we employ such appalling attacking tactics’ hobby-horse, but I have a strong feeling that Wigan’s attacking performance each week might be my undoing.

There certainly doesn’t seem to be specific tactics being played to pick apart weaknesses of other teams. Hopefully the contribution of Charlie Hodgson with the kicking indicates a stronger kicking game which will help.

The Wigan TV interview with Shaun Wane, previewing the Salford game, was pretty much what you expect – we’re disappointed we didn’t win the lot last year, the boys have worked really hard, we want the two points.

Watching first ten minutes of the friendly against Leigh, however, seemed to signal that not a great deal seems to have changed. The same system, the same results – hit and miss. The biggest worry is after a couple of penalties and being down on the Leigh 10m line, there was a discussion about what to do! Surely, the game plan preparation should have sorted this?

Perhaps my lack of professional experience means I am missing the reasons why scenarios for which side to attack, and how to do it, in the 20m/10m zones, working out which defenders are slow, early or late in the match, line speed, etc., didn’t seem to be there?

There are snippets of interviews which seem to indicate that match analysis is done, but there isn’t much point in doing it if it doesn’t cause a shift in tactics! Or perhaps it does and I can’t tell?

Either way, I think this could be a long season again, but not for the right reasons.

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