Season Review: Wigan Warriors
It feels cruel that sporting success can be defined by one moment in a season of almost 11 months. For all of the brilliant rugby Wigan Warriors played in 2020, their campaign will be remembered for losing the greatest Grand Final in the final moments of the match.
Adrian Lam’s emotional post-match interview said it all. So much passion surrounded the match and losing in those circumstances is not something any head coach ever wants to go through.
It was also the final game in the career of Sean O’Loughlin. A tough way for a legend of our sport to bow out.
And yet, despite such a gut-wrenching defeat, Lam and his players can reflect on their season with a high degree of satisfaction.
They were consistently strong throughout the campaign and seem to have found an effective way of playing under Lam – built on strong defensive work, limited mistakes and being clinical in attack.
Warriors started well in 2020. They beat Warrington Wolves 16-10 on the opening night – how long ago does that match feel? That result was one of four wins from their opening six matches. The blemishes on their record: narrow defeats to Castleford Tigers and Salford Red Devils.
Things didn’t change too much after the restart. The Cherry & Whites continued to linger in the upper echelons of Betfred Super League.
A four-game winning run to end the regular season – which included victories over Wolves and St Helens – helping secure the League Leaders' Shield. Semi-final success would follow over Hull FC and the Super League crown was within their grasp. But let’s not mention the Grand Final again.
The signs are positive heading into 2021. Most of the successful 2020 outfit are sticking around for at least another year – and Jai Field looks a shrewd signing. We must mention Warriors' academy as well. Harry Smith and Ethan Havard both look superb prospects. They are just two of the younger players who Lam can build his side around next season.
Player of the year
Bevan French was a pleasure to watch all season long. The moment he got the ball in his hands, you knew anything could happen. His try against Red Devils exemplified his outrageous step and speed to burn. Despite the arrival of Field, agreeing an extension with French in 2021 is the best piece of business Warriors have done. A word for the phenomenal Liam Farrell, who continues to get better with age, but also Zak Hardaker, who has taken well to life in the centre. In his first year at the club, Jackson Hastings was another superb performer.
Beating Saints in October in the League Leaders’ Shield decider. Up until the Grand Final, it was the best match we saw in 2020. As head coach, Lam had lost five in a row against Saints in Super League. He needed this win against Warriors’ bitter rivals. His side played a faultless 80 minutes of rugby league and deserved their 18-6 triumph at the Totally Wicked Stadium. The League Leaders’ Shield was in the bag a week later; Warriors' first piece of silverware in two years. But Lam knows he’ll be expected to go one better in 2021.
We just saw a special game of rugby league 💯🔥
Congratulations to @WiganWarriorsRL & @Saints1890 on producing a brilliant advert for our sport 👏 #SuperLeague #SLStHWig pic.twitter.com/6PtEMSGM5P
— Betfred Super League (@SuperLeague) October 30, 2020
They didn’t come away with the big prize, but Warriors had a great 2020 season. Anyone who watched the Grand Final knows the result could have gone either way. For sure, they will be contenders again in 2021.