Last night, Wigan again did not miss talisman Bevan French.
The mercurial fullback remains in Australia with Wigan coach Matt Peet confirming that he is still showing symptoms for Covid-19 and whilst this is the case he cannot return to England.
In his absence, Jai Field again started at fullback and blew Leeds apart. The former Parramatta halfback scored a hat-trick. His first may have been a somewhat bizarre and lucky try with a knock-on accidentally prevented and turned into a kick, but his other two tries showed the threat he poses from offloads due to his speed and agility.
Ironically, it was Leeds who were originally linked with the player but were unable to get the deal done due to the old overseas quota rules. This allowed Wigan to step in and snap up a player who undoubtedly suits the way the game is played in 2022.
In modern rugby league where the tempo of the game has increased due to the ‘six again’ rule and broken defensive lines appear more often especially around the ruck, players like Field will excel as we saw last night, against Hull KR last week and indeed in pre-season.
The explosive Field is a lot like the absence French in the attacking threat he offers. The Warriors sorely missed French last year but in 2020 and at the start of 2021 we saw exactly what he could do to teams when given an inch of space such is his speed and flair.
These days, the best position for a player like French and Field is indeed fullback where Field shone last night and French has settled into during his time at Wigan holding onto the number one shirt despite the presence of Zak Hardaker in the squad.
Of course, there can only be one fullback so the question now being asked is if and how Field and French will figure together at Wigan under Matt Peet. This question was asked of Peet last night following the win.
When Jenna Brookes of Sky Sports asked where French would play when he returns, the Wigan boss joked, “In the reserves.”
He went on to expand on his answer however: “I’m sure we’ll look forward to having Bevan back, you’ve got to make room for class players.
“It’s healthy when we’ve got players, the ones we didn’t select today, we’ve got some depth there.”
So, as Peet looks to make room for class players, how could Wigan fit Field and French into the same side?
Perhaps one of the most obvious ways would be to include one on the bench. Last night, Wigan had four forwards on the bench meaning there was no cover for the halves and backs so it’s possible that Peet could see some benefit in starting someone like French on the bench.
Furthermore, we’ve seen the devastating impact players like French and Field can have coming on against tired defences. Rob Burrow in 2011 is certainly the best example whilst Catalans’ Arthur Mourgue is another example. So, there’s precedent and both could devastate a tired defence especially on the back of Wigan’s great offload game.
However, such is the quality of the pair, it would seem wrong if one of them were to start on the bench. Having both on the field from the start of the game would give defences two things to worry about which can only be a good thing. Both being on the pitch would prevent doubling up on one of them because then the other would be afforded more space which is something you do not want to give either of them.
So, how could this be accomplished? Well both Field and French have played on the wing before so this could be an option for Peet and certainly give both the chance to run in broken field which is where they both excel.
However, playing on the wing would see one of them too removed from the action. When the pair could be feeding off offloads in centre field, having one on the wing would limit their ability to do that. So, what else could be done to get both players in the 13?
Both of them have experience in the halves, so perhaps that could be the way to go. In many ways, by naming one at stand-off they could essentially play with two fullbacks with Cade Cust acting as the lynchpin between the two.
Of course this would raise questions about where would Thomas Leuluai would play. Capable of playing at nine, he and Sam Powell could dovetail nicely at hooker whilst Field and French tear apart defences at fullback and stand-off.