There must have been moments in the last few weeks, where Wigan Warriors stand-off Jai Field has had to pinch himself, just to make sure that the start of 2022 Betfred Super League really has been this good. The contrast between the opening of this campaign and the last for the former St George man, could not be more stark.
There was a palpable sense of excitement around what the new Wigan man could bring to a spine already boasting two former Men of Steel in Zak Hardaker and Jackson Hastings in 2021, but the opening game against Leigh turned out to be the debut from hell. Field suffered a torn hamstring, which was later confirmed to be the worst possible grade. He would go on to make just 5 appearances that year.
Fast-forward roughly 12 months, and it’s a very different story. Field has been the focal point of a Wigan side that sits unbeaten after 4 games, with 5 tries under his belt. His pace has torn teams to shreds, and though still early days, he is making in-roads in the Steve Prescott Man of Steel rankings, currently sitting second.
Despite making such an eye-catching start to the 22’ campaign, Field insists he is taking things one step at a time;
“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.”
Hamstring issues are notoriously difficult to overcome, especially for players for whom speed is such a potent weapon. To add insult to this injury, Field joined Wigan to a country in lockdown. Despite being away from his family, and facing a long recovery process however, he says he never regretted his decision to make the switch the Betfred Super League;
“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.”
Anyone who has seen Field play in the opening four rounds without any previous knowledge of Field’s ordeal in 2021 will have seen a player full to the brim with confidence, desperate to take sides on and show what he can do, but behind the scenes, there has been a mental battle to get back to this point
“The speeds that I hit are quite high, for me initially coming back from the surgery, it took me a little while to trust myself in my own head. I ticked all the boxes that the physios needed me to, but withing myself something was holding me back, because of a bit of scarring.”
With his injury woes now seemingly behind him, Field finds himself part of a Wigan team going through something of a renaissance of their own.
Matty Peet has taken over the role of Head Coach with Lee Briers joining as his assistant, and for a side who struggled in attack last season, the points have been flowing for the Warriors.
This new, very easy on the eye, aggressive Wigan approach has seen Field playing in the slightly unfamiliar role of Fullback due to the delayed return of Bevan French, and despite being initially signed to play in the halves, he has been relishing turning out in a different position;
“I’m enjoying my time there at the moment, I played quite a bit there during my juniors. I like the freedom, popping up on both side of the field.”
Having seen so little of him in his first season with the club, many Wigan fans and pundits alike have described Field as being like a new signing for the Cherry & Whites, and the Australian is enjoying the opportunity to finally impress the supporters at the DW;
“It’s been a funny last few years with not much fan interaction, with no fans coming to the games (in lockdown), but we’ve had two games at home in front them so far this season and it’s been good.”
We’re only four rounds into this season, but of course the fast-start has meant that whispers of grand finals and trophies have already started to spread around the town of Wigan.
If those whispers are to become a reality, then the Warriors will need to Field to continue the fine fettle that he has started in this year, but the for the time being it’s just good to see a genuinely exciting Rugby League Footballer fit, healthy, and enjoying himself.
Long may that continue.
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