Whisper it very quietly people. Don’t be too loud as to upset wild packs of bloodthirsty critics, but…I think Jon Wilkin has been superb so far in 2018.
Oh dear. I’ve done it haven’t I. I’ve just signed my rugby league death warrant. One can’t openly believe Wilkin is one of our top performers without a barrage of hate from certain members of the redvee faithful, but why is that?
Ironically, it is very little to do with Wilkin’s ability and more to do with his positioning. From being a natural -and rather quite talented – second row, the former Saints skipper was thrusted into the halfback position in order to plug gaping holes in the saints ship – holes that arguably have only recently been filled. What many overlook here is…it wasn’t his choice. Although it may not fit certain people’s agenda – I am heavily confident that Mr Wilkin doesn’t pick the Saints side and certainly doesn’t choose where and when he himself plays.
It is also a fair point to suggest that Wilkin’s heightened ability and impressive all-round rugby quality has been his biggest downfall. The simple fact that multiple coaches – including Mick Potter, Royce Simmons, Nathan Brown and Keiron Cunningham – all at some point thought it preferable to select Wilkin in the halves must display some type of method behind what plenty perceive as madness. Now, please do not mistake my points here as support for Wilkin as a primary playmaker. I often disagreed with the decisions made to play him there and quite often agreed with the masses in the belief we needed better in that position. However, do not make the misjudgement of seeing Wilkin as a poor player – the truth is a far cry from that.
For a start, anyone who has watched the BBC’s coverage of the Challenge Cup over the years will know just how well he comes across. His knowledge is extensive and analysis insightful. His punditry displays his deep understanding of the game – an understanding that is earned only by playing at a high quality club like St Helens for as long as he has. It is this rugby brain that – I believe – allows him to influence games despite his ability maybe not being what it once was. Whilst I may believe the old ‘1 percenters’ cliche can be nonsense, Wilkin has the footy know-how to rival anyone he faces up against – offering himself and the team possible advantages.
I would even go as far as to say that his 2018 season is – at present – amongst his best in his 16 year tenure with club. Or at least, one of his most reliably consistent. His defensive numbers are certainly impressive – so far this year he’s managed 603 tackles, which leaves him second only to James Roby at the club. He has also recorded 7 try assists so far in 2018- which is the highest amongst the clubs forwards, highlighting the impression years of playmaking may have left on his game. Not to mention the 1199 metres he has chalked up so far this year – a number that isn’t too shabby when you think that his role isn’t that of a forward driving prop and that it places him ahead of the well respected young gun Morgan Knowles.
Statistics might not tell the full story but watching St Helens play does. It doesn’t take a professional to understand just how much influence he is having on games this year – a most recent example being the game against Hull FC. The periods of the contest Wilkin sat in the stands were the points we lacked composure and consistency. The time in which he featured however, the ship seemingly steadied and eventually allowed Saints to run out comfortable winners.
I honestly believe that if you can’t bring yourself to see Jon Wilkin’s quality now – with just how well this season is going and just how well he is performing – you will never see it. He may not be the best in the league, he may not be what he once was – but right now he is a St Helens player, a player who has been a fine servant for the redvee. All I ask is you savour his remaining days at the club, as it might just be the case that – you won’t know what you had until it’s gone.