Everything has to be better – Matt Peet targeting all-round improvement at Wigan
Steeped in cherry-and-white culture since he first set foot through the DW Stadium doors in 2008, Matt Peet is applying an holistic approach to the mighty challenge of reining in Wigan’s Super League rivals next season.
Peet picked up the Challenge Cup and was named coach of the year in 2022 after establishing a buccaneering brand of rugby in his first season in charge, having completed his 13-year rise through the ranks by succeeding Adrian Lam as head coach last October.
But for all the plaudits sent his way, Peet is acutely aware that his side once again fell short of the all-conquering exploits of St Helens, and the 38-year-old is a firm believer that cultural development is crucial if his side is to prevent Saints cantering to an unprecedented fifth straight crown next term.
“We have to improve, that’s all I know,” Peet told the PA news agency. “It’s not about Grand Finals, it’s about improving every day, how we handle our media and briefings, our nutrition and weight sessions – everything has to be better.”
Players returning for pre-season at the club’s Robin Park training complex have been sent out on school visits and other community excursions, whilst lunchtimes see first-team stars rub shoulders with academy graduates and backroom and administrative staff.
The inclusive approach has become precious to Peet after more than a decade during which he rose from his initial role as a scholarship coach, through youth and community levels to his appointment as performance coach in 2012, before last season’s ultimate step.
“It’s about making time in the day, every day, to discuss how we’re getting on, to talk about how well we’re connecting and the things we might have let slip,” added Peet.
“There’s no bosses here, everyone has an opinion and is entitled to share their feelings. We’ve invited a lot of ex-players and ex-staff in, the staff from the rest of the club, the media team, the chaplain. It’s very integrated and it’s about everybody in the club getting together to collaborate.”
Peet has so far made minimal changes to his playing staff, bringing in centres Toby King and Jake Wardle from Warrington and Huddersfield respectively, though the retirement of Tommy Leuluai, who has joined Peet’s coaching staff, has raised the tantalising possibility of a shift by star full-back Jai Field to a slot in the halves.
Peet also admitted he was “gutted” to learn that young back-rower Kai Pearce-Paul has agreed a deal to join Australian NRL side Newcastle Knights at the conclusion of the 2023 campaign – but says Pearce-Paul will benefit from the Warriors’ mantra of inclusion until and beyond he steps on the plane to head Down Under.
“I’m gutted he’s leaving and I won’t shy away from saying I love him to bits and I wish he was staying,” said Peet. “But we’ve parked it now and he will be 100 per cent a part of this group until he leaves. He will always be a Wigan player and I want him to have fond memories of this place.”
The trend of installing home-grown coaches in Super League continued during the close season with Mark Applegarth succeeding Willie Poching at Wakefield, and Saints following Wigan’s example by appointing club great Paul Wellens in place of the departed Kristian Woolf.
Peet will have a good idea of how Wellens is feeling ahead of his inaugural season in charge and said he welcomed the current wave of appointments, which build on the success of Paul Rowley and Ian Watson at Salford and Huddersfield respectively during the last campaign.
“I have spoken to Paul and we have shared a few ideas,” said Peet. “We are all under the same pressure no matter where we finished last season. I can’t really concern myself too much with what they’re doing but obviously you would not expect them to change too much.
“I think Paul is a great guy and I love what is happening with Ian and Paul and Mark. There has to be a pathway for young British coaches and I’m chuffed about that. I’m chuffed Paul has got the job and I understand a little bit about how he will be feeling about it.”