Rugby League giants Wigan Warriors won the Super League crown last year after defeating Warrington in the showpiece Grand Final. This term they face the prospect of defending that coveted title under a new regime led by former playmaker and Wigan legend Adrian Lam.
One of the men key to their success last campaign was 22-year-old centre Oliver Gildart. A product of the Wigan academy who’s risen through the ranks to cement himself in the first team and now within the England set-up, making a very assured debut last year scoring a try in a win over New Zealand.
Ahead of the new Super League season that kicks off with a mouthwatering clash between Wigan and fierce rivals St Helens on Thursday, we spoke to Oliver about his hopes for the season ahead, the gruelling training regime required to play in this toughest of sports and which players he ranks among the toughest opponents.
The MALESTROM: Oliver great to speak with you. What are your feelings ahead of the new season? Ready to defend the title?
Oliver Gildart: Yeah, obviously we’ve spoken about defending that title and hopefully getting back to Old Trafford this year, so that’s the goal.
TM: And a big start against St Helens, you’ll be looking to get one over on them?
OG: Yeah it’s a massive game to start the season and if we can get a win over them then that should stand us in good stead for the rest of the season.
TM: How’s the preseason being going under new coach Adrian Lam?
OG: Yeah, it’s been going good, we’ve done a lot more running this year, obviously the substitutions have gone down, so we’ve got a lot fitter and hopefully we’ll benefit from that.
TM: Has it been a big difference in working under Shaun Wane?
OG: Pretty similar really, obviously Lammy’s more attacking but the first few rounds of the year you know the weather’s going to create some pretty bad conditions so we’ll not be attacking a lot really.
TM: How was it going back to training after Christmas on a freezing cold Wigan day?
OG: It was tough, me and George (Williams), we’d been to Dubai in the offseason in the warm weather, so when we went straight back into preseason it was a bit of a shock to the system… but you soon get used to it.
TM: Is Christmas less of an event, not being able to indulge too much knowing what’s around the corner?
OG: No, not really I think everyone enjoys their Christmas off, and you know Lammy especially wanted us to spend time with our families and just enjoy it. It’s just on you then to come back in decent shape.
TM: What makes Wigan and rugby such a perfect fit, is it just in the blood?
OG: Well it’s a massive rugby town and from a young age it’s instilled into you and it really progresses as you get older.
TM: Is it exciting having Sean Edwards coming back soon?
OG: That should be really good. Obviously, it’s a year on from now, so we’re kind of just looking forward to this season and working with Lammy and we’ll see what Sean Edwards brings a year later. Everyone speaks really highly about him at the club so it’s going to be good times.
TM: So, tell us a bit about your gruelling training regime?
OG: Well, our usual week will be Monday, Tuesday… we have like a day off Wednesday but you can go in for extras or if you need extra treatment with the physio or extra weights stuff like that.
So we usually train about six days a week, roughly 8am until 3pm. We’re doing double weights in pre-season, so you’ll have a session in the morning, a stacked session again, then a video session, then out on the field. So it’s pretty full on, long days.
TM: Is there a lot of competition in the weights room?
OG: Yeah, there’s quite a bit of competition. We set targets in the gym, getting our personal bests, improving on what we were lifting last year so it is pretty competitive in the gym at the minute.
Obviously, you split up forwards and backs, so it’s good to see who’s the strongest and fittest. But this year we’ve not been doing our heaviest weights on squats and bench we’ve changed the sessions up a bit and been doing a lot more running – for the last few weeks anyway.
TM: And who might that be?
OG: The strongest and fittest I’d have to say, Liam Farrell, he’s a tank! But this year we’ve not been doing our heaviest weights on squats and bench we’ve changed the sessions up a bit and been doing a lot more running – for the last few weeks anyway.
TM: So more conditioning?
OG: Yeah, a few of us came back late from the England camp, so we missed that, that’s when the boys were really putting the weights up, so I personally missed all of that.
TM: We often have the conversation about who the fittest athletes are and to be honest, rugby league players must be right up there…
OG: I think it’s up there because you’re constantly doing something, obviously footballers cover a lot more metres than us but they’re also stopping at times or they’re jogging whereas in rugby it’s full on for eighty minutes, plus you’ve got the contact side of things as well, which takes a lot out of you – so yeah, it’s full on.
TM: How do you prepare for those constant explosive hits during a game? It’s been likened to a car crash?!
OG: I don’t think you really can prepare for it, obviously you do contact sessions in training, but you can’t really go that full on in case of injuries and that so you kind of get used to it as the season starts.
Game by game you pick up a few bangs and you get into it really. At the start, you’re really sore, but it gets better as the season goes on.
TM: And what about your diet, is there a strict plan provided by the club?
OG: We have a chef who cooks our breakfast, dinner so it’s all done for us all the right foods that we need. I’m not too strict on my diet outside of rugby, but try and stay as healthy as I can really.
TM: Any guilty pleasures?
OG: It’s got to be Dominos pizza, after a game the lads all get together and have a Dominos and chill out.
TM: You must burn off serious calories during a match?
OG: I’m not too sure exactly how many, but we have pizza in the changing room after the game so a few of the lads get on that and then we go and pig out afterwards.
TM: What about recovery, there must be some broken bodies in the changing room after a game?
OG: We have a lot of ice baths. In the morning we’ll have an ice bath and do a weights session and then if you’re struggling with anything you go and see the physios and they’ll look after you. A spin on the bike and then a weights session.
You’re probably sore for another two or three days, but you’ve just got to look after yourself in that sense.
TM: Have you ever played on through any bad injuries?
OG: I fractured my back against Leeds. I fractured three vertebrae just before half time and I played on for a few minutes in the second half because we didn’t know the diagnosis then, but I just couldn’t do it, so I just pulled myself off the pitch and the scan revealed I’d fractured my back so I don’t think you can get worse than that really. (Laughs)
TM: (Laughs) Yeah that’s pretty bad! Just shows how tough a sport it is not just in terms of fitness. Do you have to prepare mentally for that?
OG: Not so much now, because I’ve been doing it since being a young lad so I know what to expect, you’ve just got to be in the right mindset before you play. Everyone knows what’s coming.
TM: How did you get into the game? Obviously, your Dad (Ian Gildart) played for Wigan?
OG: My brother started playing before me, I started going down to a few of his training sessions and I joined in on a few things and enjoyed it, so I started playing rugby on a Saturday, football on a Sunday and then I had to pick one as I got older and I chose rugby.
TM: Did you have a rugby hero growing up?
OG: I used to like watching George Carmont at Wigan, he was always someone I watched when I was younger and Greg Inglis people like that, but yeah probably one of those two.
TM: What about rugby union, will you be tuning into the Six nations at all?
OG: Yeah, I enjoy it, we did a few training sessions with Bath a few years ago and I follow the international games whenever that’s on, I enjoy it to be honest.
TM: How do you think it compares physically?
OG: I’m not really sure, obviously on the stats, we do a lot more carries and a lot more tackles but I don’t know how it’d feel being underneath a ruck, you know.
TM: Tell us what it was like breaking into the England setup and of course scoring against the Kiwis?
OG: I can’t kind of believe it all happened, but I’m really proud looking back now, but it was just an amazing feeling really. I really enjoyed myself, it was pretty daunting going into the camp with all the senior players and lads who I’ve watched growing up.
So it was a bit weird being in there, but I learned a few things working with the guys and hopefully, it will make me a better player.
TM: How close do you think we are to the Aussies right now?
OG: Well we’re ranked number two now so yeah… New Zealand beat Australia before they played us over here, so we’re not far off really, hopefully, we can get a few wins in the next few years.
TM: And what about the World Club Challenge against the Sydney Roosters, that should be an interesting game?
OG: Yeah, they’re a really good side, they’ve got a lot of good young players so it’ll be tough, but I don’t think anyone backed us to beat Cronulla and we did that so hopefully we can get another one won.
TM: Have you got any ambitions to play in the NRL at any point, like the Burgess brothers?
OG: Hopefully in a few years to come I’d like to go over there and test myself, it’s definitely a goal I have in mind. The standard across the whole league is better than what it is over her so I think anyone would want to have a crack at it.
TM: Who’s the best player you’ve come against in the Super League?
OG: Probably Ben Barba last year, he was tough to handle and obviously he got the ‘Man of Steel’ so it’d be him.
TM: And who hits the hardest?
OG: Probably Sam Moa who plays for the Catalans, he’s probably the hardest. He’s not caught me yet but he’s belted a few people.
TM: Finally it must have felt great getting Wigan’s try of the season?
OG: Oh yeah it was a great honour, that’s my side of the game scoring tries and so it was good to get that award, especially against Saints as well.
TM: Well thanks for talking to us and good luck for the season ahead.
OG: Cheers mate, thanks a lot.
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