Things just keep getting better for Jai Field. A year on from being that Australian kid who lasted just 19 minutes on his Wigan Warriors debut, he has now become the undisputed answer to the conundrum in the Cherry and Whites’ full-back position.
And his sensational match-winning try against Salford Red Devils on Sunday was just the latest exhibition of what a superstar Matt Peet’s men have in the 24-year-old.
Having begun the season as one of three candidates to start in the No.1 position, Field has quickly made the battle a non-contest. Zak Hardaker’s latest indiscretions have seen the former Man of Steel leave the club, while Bevan French’s return from injury has been played out from the wing rather than his favoured full-back spot.
All the while, Field has been tearing up the Betfred Super League. From the moment he outstripped the Hull Kingston Rovers cover to collect Cade Cust’s kick from a scrum and sail over the line in Round 1 of the season, the former St George Illawarra Dragons and Parramatta Eels man has marked himself out as Wigan’s breakout player of the campaign.
Time and again he has burst through the smallest of gaps to get in behind opposition defences and coast in for tries, while many of the Warriors’ greatest set plays this term have had Field on the end of them, with his clinical finishing making mugs of many a team.
Salford were just the latest side to fall foul of Field’s brilliance this weekend. Having opened the scoring with a now-trademark 50-yard run down the Wigan right to score under the posts, Field did seem to have blotted his copybook when his no-look pass had been intercepted by Ken Sio for a walk-in try which saw the visitors level at 24-24 midway through the second half.
But the piece de resistance came three minutes from time. Morgan Escare tried his luck from distance with a drop-goal attempt which would have put Salford one point ahead, but when the ball came up short, Field collected five metres from his own line. He then engaged the Salford chasers, threw a dummy and went flying through the gap which opened up before outpacing the cover to score the winning points.
He has now scored a league-leading 14 tries in 2022, with his 18 clean breaks and 1672 metres made also topping the Super League charts.
“It’s always nice to start the season well, for me personally I’m just pleased to be playing some footy after a pretty traumatic 2021,” Field told The Sportsman in an exclusive interview recently.
“I’m a big believer that things happen for a reason. When that happened, I just got on with it. I tried my best to get back, played four games and picked up a groin injury, but I don’t think there was any point where I thought I’d made the wrong choice, I just wanted to get myself right and get back on the paddock.”
What made his intervention all the more important on Sunday was St Helens’ 30-10 defeat to Castleford Tigers on Friday. The champions’ setback opened the door for Wigan to pull level at the top of the league after 10 rounds, and until Field’s 95-metre magic it appeared that they may be about to blow a great opportunity to get back on level terms with their great rivals.
Saints coach Kristian Woolf said he was proud of his youthful Saints side after he handed debuts to seven players on the back of a busy Easter weekend, but he is bound to be feeling the breath of Wigan down his neck after Field’s latest demonstration of pure, unadulterated magnificence.
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