Wigan and Warrington finished first and second in last season’s Super 8s and went on to contest the Super League final.
They started the current campaign as favourites to repeat the feat but both fell well short of the mark. Wigan finished sixth in the Super 8s, while Warrington did not even qualify, and both sets of players are having to watch on as the playoffs are contended by the real stars of the season.
So what went wrong for these teams and what can they do to get back to the top of the game next time around?
The biggest drop in form was suffered by Warrington, who topped the Super 8s table last season, and finished runners-up in the playoffs and the Challenge Cup. They went into the current campaign among the favourites to reach the Grand Final once more, but instead found themselves having to battle it out with Championship teams in the Middle 8s.
That they won all seven games with ease will be scant consolation for Wolves fans as the fall from grace in the regular season was spectacular. A vast improvement will be required if they are to stand a chance of challenging the likes of Castleford and Leeds Rhinos in 2018.
The half-backs disappointed and that had a negative impact on the performances of Dec Patton, while new signing Kevin Brown failed to deliver as hoped. A Grand Final hangover and the frustration of falling just short at the final hurdle could have played a role. Tony Smith went through a host of excuses, but ultimately his team was far too talented to be in the position it was in and the blame lay with his inability to motivate his players or select the best team. The dismal season has cost Smith his job after eight years, a spell which made him the league’s longest-serving manager, and it is time for a brave new era at Warrington.
Just like Leeds the previous season, they breezed through the Qualifiers and they will hope for a similar revival next year to the one the Rhinos have enjoyed in 2017.
Smith’s replacement will have a real job on his hands, but green shoots of recovery emerged during the Middle 8s. They can wipe the slate clean and will be an interesting dark horse for next season if you take advantage of odds by reviewing Bookmaker before wagering.
Wigan will make another really interesting selection in futures wagering for the 2018 season. They fell well short of their successes last year, but their drop in form was by no means as stark as that of Warrington. Last season’s champions got off to a slow start but rallied in the second half of the season, won the World Club Challenge and got within inches of making the playoffs once more. However, a late meltdown saw them lose back-to-back games against Castleford and Wakefield and fall to sixth in the Super 8s table.
They still have a strong team and will always have a great chance as they are led by England captain Sean O’Loughlin, who made the Dream Team for a sixth consecutive season in 2017. Wigan have been able to keep hold of him, despite attention from ambitious Toronto. It was no coincidence that they fell to consecutive defeats in the last two games of the season at a time when O’Loughlin was missing.
It is highly likely that this season will be considered a mere blip for Wigan, who made the playoffs every season from 2006-2016 and reached the Grand Final for four consecutive years until this campaign. It was a frustrating year but they can rest up this summer and come back stronger than ever next time around, with O’Loughlin continuing to lead them.