During my truly wonderful weekend in Paris I had the odd withdrawal symptom with no live sport, I did persuade my non sport inclined daughter to let me watch the Ulster/Saracens game in a bar. But, good as that was it’s not quite the same! I’d forgotten that Saracens big game against Northampton had been moved to the Sunday, but Twitter reminded me. I’d thought about making the trek to Wigan to watch London Broncos play and decided it’d be rude not to while I was away! The wonders of the internet allowed me to book my hotel and ask for my first press pass, on the basis of you don’t ask you don’t get! I followed up my email with a phone call and Graham Emmerson – Media Manager very kindly agreed to my request. I left home at 10am and had a very leisurely journey via a SatNav route I very much approved of, hardly any motorway! Perfect! To be a total anorak now one thing I was hugely pleased to spot on my journey were pairs of Red Kites soaring in the sky; these are the huge birds you can see virtually over the whole country now. Reintroduced by Sir Paul Getty amongst others they’re a site to behold with their wingspans at up to 5ft 8; any regular attendee at Wycombe Wanderers or Wasps games will no doubt have been distracted by up to 10 of the birds soaring above the ground; a real thing of beauty!
Having had my usual ramblings on to the rugby league; it was with some trepidation that I drove to the DW Stadium the home of the mighty Wigan Warriors; the double winners of 2013 hadn’t started in the best way having lost both their first home game against Huddersfield and their first away game to Castleford. However they started the evening with 6 games played 2 lost but 4 won in contrast to Broncos 7 games played 7 games lost. I can honestly say I was dreading a cricket score in spite of the fact a few of the Wigan ‘superstars’ were missing. It was with some nerves that I went into the Media/Press Room, I was put at ease by Paul Rowley Leigh Centurians coach there do commentate for radio in the first instance as we had a laugh about pies, (see the car sticker I saw as I arrived in Wigan). I made my way to my seat to find I had a brilliant view in an amazing stadium.
The teams took to the pitch with polite applause for London Broncos and really great, rousing music and commentary snippets for Wigan Warriors. Broncos kicked off and the ball was knocked on by Wigan in the first set giving a scrum to London. Broncos used the attacking platform but appeared to drop the ball from where I was sitting; it was deemed to have been reefed out however with 3 men in the tackle allowing London a further set. Much to my delight and surprise Jamie O’Callaghan scored in the corner; I have to say wow it was hard not to jump up in the air as he touched the ball down! The kick was a difficult one and was missed; the Londoners however were ahead by 4 with minutes on the clock! Early on it was the Broncos who looked the more ‘together’ they were moving up in a defensive line well and actually passing to each other in a way I hadn’t seen all season. Their kicking game has been seriously lacking giving their opponents perfect platforms to attack, something had clearly clicked however as Wigan were forced to kick the ball out. The result from that? Another try for London Broncos as Mike McKeekan who has looked good at times went over the line, in my excitement I didn’t take note of any detail, but, he scored!! This time Josh Drinkwater was successful to add the 2 points, Broncos were ahead by 10 points with only 8 minutes on the clock! I was tweeting for Broncos and a bright spark follower suggested the final whistle should go, ha ha, a great idea but not possible unfortunately.
Things were very quiet at the DW Stadium, I’d say Broncos start was a shock to say the least. Wigan have class running throughout their squad and in particular both Sean O’Loughlin and Michael Mcilorum looked the great players they are. However the team weren’t gelling as a whole, they made error after error in the first half, had you been from another planet you might have thought the shirts had been swapped for a while there! Amongst my notes is the line – ‘goal line drop out forced again by Broncos – this is like watching a different team!’ However after 30 minutes Wigan found some of the form that has made them one of the most successful teams of the superleague era. A wild pass landed with fullback Matty Bowen who nearly broke through but Broncos defence held firm. Denny Solomona knocked the ball on to give Wigan a second set of 6, Mcilorum jinked through to put O’Loughlin in, he went over the line but was held up. However Wigan were to score through former Bronco Tony Clubb in the corner, George Williams scored the extra 2 points with a great kick! The Warriors were back! Adding insult to injury Dan Sarginson also a former Bronco was to be next on the scoresheet for the home team, oh the irony! But I have to say, great to see the former Hemel Stag go over the line, he was a real favourite of mine, very reminiscent of the far away Sam Tomkins. The kick was missed this time putting the score at 10 apiece. Holes seemed to be opening in the Broncos defence and Iain Thornley found one such, strolling through easily to score Wigan’s 3rd try. The try was converted sending the teams in at half time with the scores Wigan 16 London 10.
The second half started with errors by both teams although I have noted that Mcilorum looked pure class. Attacking positions were squandered by both sides as Wigan were penalised for crossing during one attack, then going one pass too far, simply throwing the ball off the field. Broncos knocked the ball on in a couple of dangerous positions giving the home team several opportunities to increase their lead. The next player to score? Why Tony Clubb of course, a home grown Bronco, he was awarded the Man of the Match plaudit at the end of the game. Dan Sarginson was not to be outdone and he scored a great try in the corner as he plucked the ball out of the air to touch down in the corner. The first try was converted the second with a side line kick wasn’t. Warriors lead was stretched to 26 to 10 after a good period of attack. London weren’t finished with the scoring and Iliess Macani a former London Skolar scored a strong try in the corner touching the ball down before he went over the line. The kick again from the side line was missed. The theme of 2 tries each continued for Wigan as Iain Thornley again exploited a gap in the Broncos defence. At 30 to 14 it felt like a fair result after the effort made by a much improved London Broncos, however Matty Bowen had different plans and ran virtually the whole length of the pitch to score a great solo try. There were times during the game I felt he hadn’t backed himself, the result when he did was a great score. With the added 2 points the score finished at Wigan Warriors 36 London Broncos 14. A score that this biased London fan thinks flattered the home team.
Part of the whole media/press pass thing is to be able to attend the ‘conference’ after the game with the 2 coaches. Tony Rae was first to appear and although he seemed subdued having seen his team lose for the 8th time he was clearly proud of the effort put in, a quick précis of his comments ‘ we were outrageously gutsy and courageous, but made too many errors’ ‘the game would be a good building block and the guys could eyeball each other with pride’ ‘Wigan scored largely scrambled tries and were made to work for them’ he also commented on the former London boys Sarginson and Clubb – ‘terrific guys doing terrific jobs’. He also stated that ‘we’re in the fight as a group’ A much happier coach I’d say than the one that must have attended previous ‘press conferences’ this season.
Shaun Wane was next up and it must be said he didn’t look a happy bunny, perturbed is the word I’d use. He was asked if he was nervous in the first half – I’d best leave out the first part of his reply but he said he was ‘upset and wanting half time to come’ he went on to say that the opposition gave a spirited display and having watched all of their games this season it was clear that this was their best performance. ‘We have to expect teams to lift their game when they come here’ he was asked if he felt the score flattered Wigan, strangely his opinion differed to mine! He was however very disappointed with the way his team defended, and was clearly displeased with their attitude at times. When asked if there were any injuries his response was a witty ‘Sore ears but all good’. With a big Good Friday game against key rivals Saint Helens, standing top of the league unbeaten, looming he stated that he was ‘looking for more on Good Friday’ and that the performance ‘reflected the atmosphere which was flat, they played flat and weren’t fluid enough’.
So, improvements had been made by London Broncos and more will be needed for them to find their first win. It had looked as if St Helens were going to be beaten by the surprise package Castleford but they pulled out all the stops to get the win, Wigan will also need to improve to get the win at Langtree Park and revenge the loss they suffered there last season. I had a really great evening, Wigan is a superb stadium and it’s wonderful to be amongst so many passionate rugby league fans. My evening ended with a funny chat with a group of steward waiting for the Broncos to board their coach, I’m sure they put on some of the ‘Wiganese’ but it was literally like listening to a foreign language! I have hope that the first win for London Broncos isn’t too far away!