Super League champions Wigan Warriors are already preparing to defend their title with help from the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan).
The first-team squad was pushed to the limit during pre-season fitness tests run by the university to assess the individual performance levels of each player.
It’s the eighth year in a row that UCLan has worked with the Warriors during pre-season, using the University’s specialist laboratories to test each player against a range of physiological checks.
This includes the punishing VO2 Max assessment which pushes the athletes to exhaustion to test their aerobic capacity.
Director of performance at Wigan Mark Bitcon said: “We’re hitting pre-season as Super League champions which gives us a different approach as the World Club Challenge game against the Cronulla Sharks is at the front of all the players’ minds.
“All of the players know that Vo2 Max testing is the gold standard of physical capability and they have really pushed themselves during their visit to UCLan.
“We’re very lucky that we now have eight years’ worth of accurate data from our visits to UCLan to work with which puts us in a really strong position and helps us develop individual pre-season training programmes for each player.”
The fitness tests are part of an ongoing sponsorship deal that UCLan has as the ‘official university’ of the Super League club. UCLan has worked with players and staff over the last few years by providing pre-season fitness tests, video analysis support and several university degree places for its staff, including the head of sports science and analysis Mark Quinn, who is studying for a PhD through UCLan.
The Warriors’ relationship also provides vital experience for UCLan’s sports science final year undergraduate and postgraduate students who perform all tests under supervision from their tutors as well as taking internship opportunities at the club.
UCLan nutrition and exercise sciences graduate John Wilkinson spent a year’s internship with the Warriors during his studies before being offered a job with the club to assist in strength and conditioning.
He said: “Working with professional athletes at one of the best Super League clubs in England was a great opportunity.
“It was something I made the most of and I subsequently got this job on the back of it. I’m here to learn as much as I can.”
Ian Bentley, lecturer in sport and exercise science and Warriors’ Academy strength and conditioning coach, added: “We’ve brought in 12 UCLan students to run the fitness tests for Wigan, not only under supervision from us, but also from Shaun Wane and Mark Bitcon.
“It’s a fantastic opportunity for them to work with elite athletes in a professional environment.”