Wigan have claimed just two wins in their last six fixtures – and last Friday saw the Warriors utilise their fifth stand-off alongside Harry Smith in the halves.
Australian playmaker Cade Cust began the year at his preferred position until injury struck ahead of Round Seven, ruling the 24-year-old out for almost two months, later returning against Leeds from the bench as a replacement hooker – where he has been used since.
Joe Shorrocks and Ryan Hampshire both featured in the halves during Cust’s absence, picking up key wins against St Helens, Warrington and the Challenge Cup sixth tie victory over Leeds.
Jai Field later returned from his hamstring injury, sustained against Leigh earlier in March, during Magic Weekend and became Wigan’s fourth stand-off.
However, the Australian speedster was ‘found out’ by Catalans Dragons, with Steve McNamara’s side claiming a 46-22 victory at St James’ Park.
Former England international Kevin Brown said that he believed Field ‘couldn’t defend in the line’ and predicted a shift back to #1, with Tom Johnstone (3), Matt Whitley (2), Sam Tomkins, Arthur Morgue and Arthur Romano all scoring in Newcastle.
That change was implemented for last Friday’s derby at the Totally Wicked Stadium, with Bevan French moved to the halves as the fifth player in 2023 alongside regular starter and England international Smith.
But the move wasn’t enough to prevent another disappointing Wigan performance, falling to back-to-back defeats with Paul Wellens’ Saints claiming a 34-16 home victory.
Wigan head coach Matt Peet admitted that the chopping and changing within his halves could be having an impact on his team’s performances, while the side are also down on troops due to a number of injuries.
Mike Cooper was ruled out for the rest of the season after a nasty tackle during Good Friday, while Kai Pearce-Paul, Willie Isa and Ethan Havard are currently sidelined with respective injuries.
Wigan Warriors boss drops lack of ‘cohesion’ admission
“I think you could see at times that we weren’t cohesive [against St Helens],” Peet admitted.
“But the fact is we’ve had injuries to Jai [Field] and Cade [Cust], you’ve got to play people when other people are injured.
“Hopefully we’ll settle down on a spine and get some cohesion there.
“There’s plenty of changing in our spine and plenty of changing for our forward pack and it doesn’t contribute to flowing rugby.
“So that’s what we need to do now; settle a team and work hard.”
It’s a somewhat positive headache to have, but Peet simply has too many strong playmakers fighting it out for basically two positions.
There’s no doubting that ex-Parramatta Eels outside-back French is one of, if not the, best full-back in the competition when utilised at the back. But Field’s strongest position is also there, with his defensive efforts a worry when playing in the halves.
Ex-Manly Sea Eagles player Cust was brought in ahead of 2022 to replace the retiring Thomas Leuluai, although has recently fallen out of favour at the DW Stadium in recent times.
Shorrocks, 23, played well in the halves when called upon, but no doubt belongs in the forward pack, while Hampshire showed positive glimpses across his two appearances so far
Ultimately, Peet is going to have to choose whether he wants French or Field at the back, with a potential return to the wing for the former in what saw the 27-year-old cross for a Super League best 31 tries last season. That could allow Cust to return alongside Smith and see a settled Wigan spine for the second half of the season.