After we concluded replaying some of the classic matches on Wigan TV from the run-in of the 2006 season, Listen Live co-commentator Bilko (Andrew Rimmer) looks back at a year where Super League status was at stake for the Club.
With just two wins from the opening 16 league games, Wigan were well routed in a relegation battle. But the key signings of Michael Dobson and Stuart Fielden mid-season, as well as the return out of retirement from Kris Radlinski, the Warriors fought back.
Bilko shares his thoughts…
The effect of losing leaders
It had been coming I think. It really started at the end of 2004 when Mick Cassidy, Terry O’Connor, Adrian Lam and Craig Smith all left, we lost Andy Farrell to rugby union. In 2005 Kris Radlinski was forced to retire and at the end of that year we lost Terry Newton and Brian Carney as well, so we lost a lot of talent and characters in the dressing room. We were left with quite a mess.
I think we’ve seen with Leeds recently – you just cannot replace a bunch of players who have played together and then leave at the same time. St Helens had it when they came out of the ‘Sean Long, Paul Sculthorpe, Kieron Cunningham-type era’ – it’s very difficult.
A sower start
Everything transpired against us early on and everything was quite sower. Ian Millward left and Brian Noble came in as Head Coach. When he came in – his first game was a really good performance against Huddersfield – and I think the general reaction was that ‘we’ll be fine here, we’ve just been underperforming’. It was a false storm though.
We lost to Hull KR, Castleford and then Wakefield. It was at this point where you were beginning to accept that we were in a relegation battle. We had two wins from 14 in the league and the feeling was there that we could actually go down. We weren’t just losing – we were losing against teams in the bottom half of the table.
For Wigan to be anywhere below top four – if you look back at the history is quite shocking. That night at Wakefield – I genuinely thought that was it. There was very little hope and no sign of improvement.
The turning point
Michael Dobson was a big signing for us. Kris Radlinski came back too. That game against Catalans took place on a Sunday night and during the afternoon I remember listening to the radio to Warrington and Wakefield – and Wakefield won. At that point I think we were eight points adrift with 24 points left to play for. That’s how low it got.
That Catalans game was a must win and it’s always a weird atmosphere playing at home against them as they have no away fans. It felt like this was the start of a big funeral, but, we got the win. It was a very tight contest and that got us the start we needed. Stuart Fielden then came in ahead of the next game against Warrington.
An ‘extraordinary’ run-in
The back end of that season was extraordinary. I’ve seen Wigan win many titles but I don’t think I’ve seen as much as a rally from the sport as that. Kris (Radlinski) coming back was a big part in that. His persona in the dressing room must have been a big help. The win against Warrington was a really good win and the next week we played at Harlequins away.
There must have been over 3,500 Wigan fans at the Twickenham Stoop that night and we ended up winning the game by two points – it was a crucial win. We then battered Wakefield at home a week later and all of a sudden we had gone from two wins all season to four in a row. It kept on going and going and it felt like we were going to do it now.
An enjoyable end
We had a lot of tight, tense games in the back end of that year but the fans were coming out in droves and loving it in a weird way.
I’ve seen us be so successful down the years, but I don’t think I’ve enjoyed a period as much as that end to that season. It almost got to the point we there was nothing to lose, but they managed to fight back under all the pressure and I still don’t know how we did it, quite honestly.
For all the stats and facts surrounding Wigan’s 2006 season, click HERE.