IN his first column of the new season, Liam Farrell runs the rule over Wigan’s Super League rivals.
We play them first up tomorrow night, and I bet one of their players gets the loudest applause an opponent has ever had at this club. I’ll probably be one of those applauding as well. Pat Richards is a legend at Wigan - one of the greatest servants they’ve ever had - and it’s great to see him back in Super League.
I broke into the side in 2010 and that was the year when he swept the board and won the Man of Steel. His kicking skills were unbelievable. In training, he would be relentless, and the technique he had was outstanding.
As well as working exceptionally hard, he was also one of those people who was brilliant at every sport. Table tennis, tennis, golf, you name it, he’d be one of the best all the time - when it came to other sports he was hated like that!
He’s obviously a big player for the Dragons and, with him on board, it makes it important to obviously restrict their tries and penalties because he’s such a good goal-kicker. But you can look through their squad and pick out 10 or 11 big players for them - Glenn Stewart and Todd Carney are quality. They are strong throughout. Do I see them challenging this year? They certainly have the squad to do it. The big question-mark about them has always been their away form. If they can sort that out, they’ll be a major threat.
I think they’re in a lose-lose situation, unless they come away with all three trophies. again. They’ll be one of the top clubs again, but unless they do a treble people will say it’s not been as good a year as 2015. I don’t think they’ll do the treble again. A lot has been made of the key players they’ve lost, but in my England team-mate Brett Ferres they have made one of the best signings of the year. If he stays injury-free he’ll be a real threat.
I think they’ll be a major side this year. Like ourselves, they’ve not had too much disruption over the off-season. They’ve signed Theo Fages and a couple of new front-rowers, but they’ve kept the bulk of their squad, and I think they’ll be top two or three.
They pumped a strong Leigh side in a friendly and former Kangaroos international Kurt Gidley will be a major signing for them. Having missed out on a place in the top-four play-offs last I think the’ll be up there in the mix this time. It’s a long season and a lot can happen, but if I was to predict the top four, I’d like to say us, Saints, Leeds and Warrington.
They tend to do consistently well throughout the year, but when it comes to the crunch games they’ve not done too well. I see them again doing well; they’re one of those sides who do well against the top teams and go under the radar to a certain extent.
I’d like to think they can improve on what they’ve done. I’ve been impressed with them for the last couple of years. They seem like a team on the rise and I think Daryl Powell has done a great job. I think they’ll do well this year.
They make good signings each year and look good in pre-season, and it’s been the same this year. If they perform in the early games, they might change my mind, but as it is - and because of what’s happened in the past - I can’t put them in the mix for a play-offs spot.
On the evidence of their display against us in a pre-season friendly, I think they’ll do better than the last two seasons. Last year they had more star players in their squad but now they seem a more well-rounded team - the players may not have the same profiles but they get the job done.
They made the Challenge Cup Final at Wembley last year, which was a massive achievement for the club, but I imagine the aim for them is getting into the top-tier when the Super 8s splits after 23 rounds. It’s a realistic ambition for them, but the key will be getting the halfbacks, Terry Campese (inset) and Albert Kelly, on the pitch.
They’re similar to Hull KR, in that they got dragged into the bottom four last season and had to fight for their Super League survival through the Super 8s Qualifiers, or ‘middle eights’ as they are better known. They’ll be desperate to avoid that again.
It’s hard to make a call because they’ve changed so many players. If you go off their last few years, they’ve not made the play-offs and I imagine for them the priority will be avoiding falling into the Qualifiers again.