Shaun Edwards situation shows Wigan are in crisis off the field

PA Sport

26 March 2019 - Written by Zack Wilson

When Shaun Edwards was announced as coming back to Wigan for the 2020 season at a press conference in August last year, most of us thought it was a reason for optimism.

Here was rugby league’s ‘Prodigal Son’, returning from the other code to the sport where he made his name with his thrilling displays as a player in the 1980s and 90s.

Many of us took it as a sign that our game was starting to find its feet again in the UK, that it was looking like a sport which meant business again.

It looks now as though we were massively mistaken.

Edwards revealed recently that he had not signed a contract with the Warriors. Instead, he had been offered some kind of verbal assurance.

The lack of signed document has meant that Edwards has drip fed the media a series of quotes where he has basically said he is available to anyone who makes an acceptable offer.

Whether he should have appeared at a press conference when things were not yet set in stone is a question that only he and Wigan can answer.

But it is beginning to look like a piece of cynical marketing that has gone wrong.

There are also rumours that the Wigan club is for sale, which adds another interesting dynamic to things.

A sports lawyer has told Wigan that a verbal contract should be binding, according to reports in the local press in Wigan.

Even so, to not have put anything in writing before holding a press conference that confirmed Edwards was coming to the club is naive at best, and rank amateurism at worst.

The club do not own their own stadium, something else which does not work in their favour when it comes to attracting a buyer.

The glory days of the 1980s and 90s, in which Shaun Edwards was an active participant, now look like ancient history.

Rather than buying up the biggest stars from both codes of rugby, as they once did, Wigan now sell their best players to the NRL.

They replace them with journeymen and prospects from the lower leagues. The club’s own yourh products add plenty of talent, but the safety net of senior pros that is usually in place around young players is growing thinner by the day at the DW Stadium.

At the moment, though, the replacements for the likes of Bateman, Sutton and the rest are not being replaced with like-for-like quality.

The club looks like it is tumbling from its lofty perch of recent years in pretty quick and embarrassing manner.

The news also broke last week that now it looks as though the Welsh Rugby Union (WRU) is looking to open negotiations with Edwards about him staying on as defence coach.

The new Wales head coach, Wayne Pivac, was expected to bring in a new coach in the role, but it now looks like Edwards is being considered.

“The defence coach is down to Wayne,” the Welsh Rugby Union chief executive, Martyn Phillips, said, according to The Guardian.

"One of the reasons we appointed him early was that he would have the luxury of time to look at the coaching team he wanted. I know he had a conversation with Shaun early on and was told about the potential job at Wigan.

“Wayne wanted to take his time and my understanding was that Shaun had signed for Wigan. Then I read at the weekend that he did not have a contract and I spoke to Shaun on Monday. I told him he was a great coach and someone Wales would always have a conversation with.

“He has gone on holiday and we will pick up when he gets back. If he is open to other things, and I do not know where he is with Wigan, we would want to talk with him.”

The whole thing is beginning to look like a ruse intended to leverage as good a deal as possible from the world of rugby union by Edwards and his representatives.

If Wigan turn out to be an unwitting participant in that kind of scheme, that is the saddest indictment of the lot on the club’s current regime.

The whole thing looks shambolic and amateurish. That is bad enough for Wigan and the club’s fans.

But it also makes the whole of rugby league look shoddy, and that is unforgiveable.

Ian Lenagan reacted to the situation last week by issuing a statement admitting that he and the club had made an error not getting a commitment in writing from Edwards.

“Wigan Warriors Rugby League Club’s position is that it has an oral agreement with Shaun Edwards to become Head Coach from 2020, cemented by a handshake and announced publicly in a Press Conference by both parties in August 2018,” he said.

“I take full responsibility for missing the mention of a signed contract in Wigan’s Press Release at the time of Shaun’s appointment.

“I have done business on many occasions on the basis of an oral agreement over a handshake. Shaun and I have known each other for a long time, have great respect for each other and share a passion for all things Wigan – of course the main focus for that being Wigan Warriors and its supporters.

“Rather than debating the merits and legalities of an oral or written agreement, I have had constructive dialogue with Shaun this week to make it clear that, despite our desire for him to take up the Wigan Warriors head coach role as agreed, we would not attempt to hold Shaun to any agreement - disputed or otherwise - if he now preferred to take up a different option.

“During our conversations, Shaun asked for more time to consider his options. I agreed to his request and fully understand his reasons for doing so.

“It is obvious we need to clear up this situation as quickly as possible in a dignified manner for the best interests of Wigan Warriors and Shaun.

“It is proving to be a difficult and emotive situation for us all to navigate, but I am determined to provide our loyal fans with the clarity they deserve once Shaun has come to his decision.

“We will support whatever decision he reaches.”

There is a clear disparity of power in this situation, and it is Edwards who appears to hold all the cards.

How it ends will tell us a lot about whether Wigan are still a force in the world of UK sport, or just yesterday’s men.

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