LUKE ROBINSON knows just what it’s like to be part of Wigan Warriors’ seemingly endless production of young talent.
The ex-England scrum-half will spearhead Huddersfield Giants’ plans to defeat the reigning champions tonight as depleted Wigan, with a raft of gifted kids currently grabbing the headlines, arrive at John Smith’s Stadium.
The visitors’ injury woe saw them field one of the youngest line-ups in Super League history when the starting 13 that beat big-spending Salford Red Devils a week ago had an average age of just 21.
Confident teenagers such as Ryan Sutton, George Williams, Ryan Hampshire and the lightning winger Joe Burgess, plus fellow tyros Dom Manfredi and Sam Powell, are all set to retain their places this evening.
For Robinson, the 29-year-old who started his own career with the famous Cherry and Whites, their fearless form in a side that has lost just once in its last dozen outings is no surprise at all.
“I’ve been part of that system,” he told The Yorkshire Post.
“I’ve been one of those young lads who, no matter where they play or who they face, they just revel in the fact they’re playing first team for Wigan.
“They have such a good conveyor belt and you know if you’re not 100 per cent someone else will be at your heels taking your spot.
“You are taught that from an early age at Wigan but then, also, the transition from scholarship to 19s and 19s to first team is just seamless; kids just step up and all know what’s expected of them.”
Halifax-born Robinson initially signed for Wigan as an 11-year-old at the same time as current captain Sean O’Loughlin.
He debuted in 2002 and played against Bradford Bulls in the following season’s Grand Final but, like so many of the club’s then youngsters, was allowed to leave, joining Salford in 2005.
It annoyed many Wigan supporters at the time that a raft of homegrown players such as Kevin Brown, Shaun Briscoe, Stephen Wild and Martin Aspinwall – who all later represented their country – were all discarded for more famous names.
Current coach Shaun Wane, however, who led them to the double last term, seems intent on nurturing the youth once more.
“That’s down to (Ian) Lenagan more than anything,” said Robinson, about the Wigan chairman who took control in 2007.
“I remember when I originally went from Salford to Huddersfield he was making enquiries about me, Dave Hodgson and others, generally going through a lot of ex-Wigan players who’d been allowed to leave beforehand.
“You could see he wanted to keep lads who’d come through the ranks. He’s made the point that no longer will Wigan just go out and buy big-name Aussies like they were renowned for.
“He wants local kids making up that Wigan team and there’s a big emphasis on that.”
Huddersfield, similarly, are looking more and more towards British talent with just three – Jason Chan, David Faiumu and Chris Bailey – of tonight’s 19-man squad from overseas. Robinson accepts, though, they have some immediate repair work to do after their five-match winning run was ended in last Friday’s 41-22 loss at St Helens.
“The problem was we just started so poorly,” he said. “When you concede three tries and you’re 18-0 down you’re always chasing your tail. The gameplan inevitably goes out of the window.
“We have to start better, whoever we’re playing but we know against the top teams – Saints, Wigan and Leeds – the game can be over before it’s begun. We have to win that ruck early on Thursday night, make sure we give ourselves a chance.”
Huddersfield have axed Craig Kopczak but Jermaine McGillvary – who scored a hat-trick in the West Yorkshire club’s opening night win at Wigan in February – does return. The visitors have Queenslander full-back Matty Bowen fit again plus O’Loughlin back from his latest injury.
On the England loose forward, Robinson said: “I made the point a few years ago, when everyone was saying Sam Tomkins was the heartbeat of Wigan’s team, that from playing with and against him it’s Lockers who is so key.
“He does things not many other people can do. Not only is he a great ball player but he is so tough defensively too and, though he’s not the loudest on the pitch, he really leads by his actions.
“Wigan have proved they can win without him but they’re a better team with him in there and we’ll have to watch him.”