The players to have worn Wigan’s famous number 13 shirt
There has been a new name adorning one of rugby league’s most famous and successful shirts in 2023.
Morgan Smithies has taken the number 13 at Wigan following the swift departure of John Bateman, having been virtually a first-time regular since making his Warriors debut at the age of 18.
He was only just 20 when Bateman rocked up at the DW Stadium again following his two-year stint in the NRL with Canberra Raiders, and when the former Bradford man opted to depart Down Under again, this time for Wests, it was definitely now Smithies’ turn.
Coach Matty Peet said: “He is held in very high esteem here. He was our 13 last year in all but number so for us, it was important and significant but justified. We’re looking forward to Morgan developing as a player first and foremost but as a personality as well.
“Slowly but surely we want him to develop that (leadership) side of his game. I think Morgan will always be someone who will always lead by his actions. His focus will be on his own game in attack and defence.”
A future captain?
There’s almost an inevitability that if Smithies, still only 22, carries on his current trajectory that he will become Wigan captain and follow the path of Sean O’Loughlin.
O’Loughlin was the ultimate one club man, making more than 450 appearances for the Warriors, winning four Super League Grand Finals and two Challenge Cups.
Following in the footsteps of dad Keiron and uncle Kevin, O’Loughlin is the legendary Wigan figure of the current century and he became captain in 2006, his fifth season after making his debut.
“With Liam Farrell reaching the veteran stages of his career – is Morgan getting 13 a sign of the club backing him as the future leader, maybe the next captain? Time will tell,” says club commentator Andrew Rimmer.
— Morgan Smithies (@morgan_smithies) December 27, 2022
“Morgan talks about how earning the number 13 shirt as been a goal ever since he signed for the club. It shows that even in the era of squad numbers that shirt numbers still hold value and it’s why I’d never want Wigan to follow Hull KR who retired the number six shirt for Roger Millward. I understand his legend there and why they did it but yet I think it’s a shame that no youngster can to follow in his footsteps by pulling on the same shirt number.”
Smithies has been a regular in his five seasons, while by comparison O’Loughlin had spent the early part of his career largely at centre or stand-off, and in a Warriors team that was sometimes struggling.
In the twilight of O’Loughlin’s career, Smithies wearing shirt 38 regularly stood in for the regular number 13.
A great source of pride
Even prior to Smithies debut, against Catalans in March 2019, then-coach Shaun Wane was already tipping him to emulate O’Loughlin.
O’Loughlin: “Morgan has progressed from a young amateur playing in that position all the way through the academy, and I’m sure getting that shirt will be a great source of pride for him
“The number 13 shirt for me personally was all about who was wearing it at the time – I was well aware of Ellery Hanley and Phil Clarke, and probably the most dominant one of all for me was Andy Farrell.
“It was my position growing up – the old-fashioned number 13 gives you scope to have a bit of football in your game and do the nitty-gritty stuff as well.
“The number 13s at this club have tended to hold onto this shirt for a long time, and that is the great thing about Morgan, he still has so much in him and so much more room to improve.
“The beauty of being number 13 is that you don’t have to try to be like anyone else. Morgan is a very level-headed character and while he is well aware of the history that comes with the shirt, I expect him to go out there and make it his own.”
O’Loughlin had his own heroes of course, inheriting the number 13 from brother-in-law Andy Farrell, who had led Wigan with distinction in the early Super League era.
Before him, a legend of not only Wigan but the sport of rugby league and even sport in general, Ellery Hanley, had the famous shirt. Sky Sports presenter Phil Clarke also wore the shirt with distinction, before a neck injury cruelly ended his career prematurely.
It was Kiwi coach Graham Lowe who switched Hanley to loose forward following the signing of Andy Gregory from Warrington in January 1987.
He went on to score 30 tries in 17 matches from that position in the second half of that season, which to put into perspective, was more than what a Wigan number 13 had scored in the previous five seasons combined.
Wigan number 13 and leading by example
Rimmer, whose voice and online contributions are well known to Wigan fans, has watched Farrell and O’Loughlin almost exclusively carry the 13 jersey in the Super League era.
He added: “I find it interesting to compare Andy Farrell and Sean O’Loughlin as captains. They both led by example and had tremendous success but yet in entirely contrasting ways.
“Farrell’s captaincy was always visible to the eye. If he was frustrated with a try conceded you’d often see him laying down the law behind the posts to his teammates and, as the infamous 2004 brawl at St Helens testifies, he could verbally get stuck into opponents as well.
“Whereas Sean’s captaincy more seemed hidden behind a cloak. I can’t ever remember Sean ever losing his cool. He was just a steady as a rock individual who never played with any malice and I think that earned him the utmost respect from not just those within the club but from outside it as well.
“Sean can now be remembered for having captained Wigan to four Super League titles and two Challenge Cups, you can perhaps forget that all came after eight years of being part of Wigan sides that constantly lost semi finals and even battled relegation. But he was the constant glue that patched up the fraying edges during those years.”
Full international recognition has so far eluded Smithies, with just a solitary England Knights appearance under his belt.
But the Halifax-born forward will likely not be far away in 2023 and beyond, especially if he becomes the cornerstone that nearly four decades worth of 13s have been for the Wigan club.
The final word goes to Smithies: “I always aspired to the Wigan number 13 shirt because all the legends that have worn it before, and now it is up to me to grasp the opportunity with both hands and put my own stamp on it.
“I looked up to Sean for a number of years, so going from there to sitting in the meeting room one-to-one going through clips of him, I was starstruck. It was a pretty mad experience and it took me a while to get used to it.
“It will bring a bit more pressure but I always put pressure on myself to perform well for Wigan. My standards will go that little bit higher and representing that 13 shirt will bring out the best in me.”
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