Wigan will operate with their biggest-ever Super League squad in 2017 and coach Shaun Wane says all 37 players will get a taste of the action.
Wane used 32 players during Wigan’s injury-hit title-winning season in 2016, including eight debutants from the club’s academy, and says he plans to blood yet more youngsters this year.
Josh Ganson, the 18-year-old son of former top referee Steve Ganson, Liam Marshall, Callum Field, Caine Barnes and Tom Davies have all been promoted to Wane’s senior squad along with 20-year-old outside back Liam Forsyth, who has returned to his home-town club after a year in rugby union with Bath.
“With us not having the internationals for a while in pre-season, it’s given me a chance to really get some work into our young kids and make sure people like Josh Ganson and Jack Higginson are ready when we call them in because they will all play this year,” Wane said.
“Liam Marshall has impressed me a lot, all the kids have. This is the best I’ve felt in pre-season.”
Wigan secured their fourth Super League title despite a horrendous run of injuries and they be below-strength when they launch their defence against Salford on February 11.
Full-back Sam Tomkins is not expected back until April as he continues his recuperation from foot surgery, winger Dom Manfredi is set to miss the whole of the regular season after undergoing a knee re-construction and long-serving hooker Michael McIlorum, who broke his ankle against Brisbane Broncos in the World Club Series last February, will miss the start of the new season after being told he needs further surgery.
“I feel sorry for Micky because he just wants to play and it’s a big year for him,” Wane said. “He’s desperate to get back but it’s not to be. It’s going to be over a year since he played and we’ll need to give him time to get back into it.”
Wigan have re-signed Thomas Leuluai and Joe Burgess after stints in the NRL, replacing departed duo Matty Smith and Josh Charnley, and brought in French internationals Morgan Escare and Romain Nararrete and Wane admits there is plenty of room for improvement on their title-winning year.
“Our attack wasn’t great last year so there’s a lot to work on,” he said.
“Eighty per cent of our review was negative, there are a lot of things we have to do better and the players recognise that. The fact is that we only won one thing. Warrington were the best team, the most consistent team throughout the year.”