Mid-season review: Wigan Warriors

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As the Betfred Super League season reaches its midpoint, we’ve taken a look at how the Warriors have fared so far in 2022 and what’s install for them in the second half of the season as they look to claim some more silverware under Matt Peet.

Ahead of the season, there was multiple changes within the backroom staff at the D.W. Stadium with the main one seeing Adrian Lam leave the club after three seasons and be replaced by former Academy coach and later assistant head coach, Matt Peet.

Someone who knows the club like the back of his hand, Peet’s determination to get the Warriors going once again after multiple disappointing seasons was clear for all to see and set up what was an intriguing yet exciting time for the Cherry and Whites.

After some off-season recruitment saw the likes of Patrick Mago, Kaide Ellis, Cade Cust, Iain Thornley, Abbas Miski and Ramon Silva join the club, a few Warriors fans didn’t quite know what to expect with a Head Coach with no real pedigree in the management game.

But any people who was doubtful prior to the announcement have certainly been made to eat their words as the Warriors have really impressed under their new man.

The season got off to a flyer as the Warriors returned with a bang and ran out 24-10 victors over Hull KR at Craven Park. They went on to win their first four games of the season before suffering their first defeat in the south of France as they fell to a heavy defeat to last year’s League Leaders Shield winners, Catalan Dragons.

There was a slightly reactionary response to the defeat in France, and in recent years a result of that manner could’ve sparked a run of poor results. But, Peet didn’t allow that standard to become normality and the Warriors got back into form, picking up results even when they weren’t at their best.

They won the next four games including two wins in the Challenge Cup (Round Six and Quarter final respectively) and saw themselves set up a semi-final tie at Leeds United’s Elland Road with historic rivals St Helens.

But first, the Warriors faced a trip to the Totally Wicked Stadium in the traditional Good Friday derby during ‘Rivals Round’.

Despite a promising start, the Warriors couldn’t maintain the pressure they put Saints under early on and the class of Kristian Woolf’s side shone through.

There was also controversy building up to the derby as Zak Hardaker was left out of the side due to ‘dropping below standards set off the field. Many believed this would be a temporary situation that would dissolve away but as weeks went on, Hardaker had made his last appearance in his spell with the Warriors as he was released from his contract and joined Leeds Rhinos, a city and county close to his heart.

The Saints game also left Wigan without captain Tommy Leuluai who suffered a knee injury and was expected to be out for up to 12 weeks.

After responding to the derby defeat with a huge 54-10 victory over Willie Poaching’s Wakefield Trinity, Wigan continued to show resilience and not allow themselves to be deflated from the minimal defeats suffered throughout the campaign.

Peet was regularly stressing the concept of not ‘getting too high after wins and not too low after loses’, and that philosophy was clearly working a treat.

After three more wins on the bounce, the Warriors prepared for their Challenge Cup Semi-Final in West-Yorkshire. As part of a triple-header alongside the Women’s Challenge Cup Final and the other men’s Semi-Final between Hull KR and Huddersfield Giants, the Warriors produced the performance of the season as they blew Saints away in the first 40 minutes.

Saints came flying out the blocks in the early stages of the second half and took the lead which many believed would be curtains for Matt Peet’s side. But there is something in this team that just doesn’t allow them to give up. A huge culture change has installed an unbelievable amount of resilience within this squad.

A huge try from Liam Marshall with not long to go sent the Warriors through to the final in what was a huge statement result not only in terms of beating the team considered to be the best in the competition, but showing just how far the club as a united whole had come and certainly the trajectory it’s heading in.

In the build-up to the final, Matt Peet chose to switch the squad up ahead of the dress rehearsal with Wigan facing Huddersfield in Super League action before facing them in the Challenge Cup final. But Wigan fell to their third defeat of the season against the Giants which was also followed by a tough afternoon in Hull where they lost back-to-back games for the first time in 2022.

So with Huddersfield holding a slight mental advantage and the Warriors not in the greatest of form, the odds were beginning to tilt towards the Giants for some fans despite on paper Wigan being the better side.

Huddersfield for large parts of the final were the better side, dominating large parts whilst failing to really take advantage of Wigan’s terrible first half performance which was jampacked with unnecessary errors and clear nerves throughout the side.

But a try from star-man Jai Field early in the second half got the warriors back on track and despite going behind once again thanks to a piece of brilliance from Jermaine McGillvary, you always felt the Warriors had one last chance and after Harry Smith showed some of the best composure in recent Rugby League history, his inch-perfect defence-splitting kick was latched onto by that man Liam Marshall to be the Wigan hero once again.

It was the 20th time in their history that they had lifted the Challenge Cup, a feat in which continues to make them the most successful team in the competition’s long history.

Following on from the success in the capital, Matt Peet wasn’t done with proving people wrong.

Only two teams in the last decade have won their next match following a victory in the Challenge Cup final, but Wigan made it three teams with a comeback victory over Castleford Tigers.

Despite being behind at the interval, there was no stopping the second half riot from the Warriors who really turned on the style in front of the Channel 4 cameras.

Full of confidence and a certain swagger about their play, the Warriors headed into the season’s midpoint with an impressive win over Salford Red Devils, a victory which optimised the resilience and character that has been brought in by Peet and the new coaching set up.

With just a 6-0 lead at the break, Wigan had to remain patient to break the Salford defence down, but once they did, Field, Marshall and Bevan French showed their class at full potential with some wonderful link-up play earning French and Marshall respective places in round 15’s Super League ‘team of the week’.

Looking ahead to the remainer of the campaign, Wigan return to action with a home game with French side Toulouse before a trip to Wakefield Trinity which will be in preparation for Magic Weekend where Wigan face rivals St Helens for a third time this season.

With three tough final games against Saints, Hull KR and Catalans respectively, the Wigan staff will know they can’t afford any mistakes in the fixtures they’re expected to win to allow for any mishaps in those three tough games to end the league season.

As far as expectations go, Matt Peet realises he has set a benchmark now after winning silverware at the first attempt, but the Wiganer is under no illusion that his side still has work to do in order to reach the height he wants his Wigan side to be at.

 

The goal has to be more silverware, that’s a part of the D.N.A that a Wigan Warriors side should always have, but if the first half of the season is anything to go by, it wouldn’t be too much of a surprise to see Peet holding another trophy in front of his hometown club’s fans before the year is out.

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