‘Young players aren’t just filling a shirt’

Tom Davies crossed for a try on his debut
Tom Davies crossed for a try on his debut

Wigan’s young guns have been challenged to grab their chances now - before a wave of stars return.

At least 10 of the sidelined players would be considered ‘starters’ and many are due to return within the next three weeks.

Assistant coach John Winder says the fringe players currently in the side have a chance to give Shaun Wane a headache.

Winder said: “Obviously if you’ve got international players, they’ve earned their stripes and you want to get them back in.

“But Shaun is pretty consistent that he’ll pick the players who are playing well.

“The way our guys hopefully look at it is, if they perform, it doesn’t matter who comes back in two or three weeks time.”

Wigan’s three-quarter line against Hull FC tonight is likely to include academy-products Liam Marshall, Liam Fosyth and Tom Davies, who have all debuted this season.

“We’re very proud of our youth system and we invest a lot in it, we used the example we want them to not just fill a shirt, we want them to make a difference,” said Winder.

“It helps they’ve been able to witness players doing that in their lifetime, so they’ve got living, breathing examples.

“I remember Oliver Gildart debuted at Warrington two years ago and scored, so Marshy goes there two years later and thinks, ‘Why can’t I do that?’ And they get a lot of support from the experienced players around them, too.”

Long-term absentees Micky McIlorum and Dom Manfredi were sidelined by collision injuries, and Ryan Sutton was from an eye problem.

But a clutch of players are ruled out with minor knee injuries or pulls, and Winder said: “There are lots of reasons why you could get more injuries, the condition of the surfaces they play on, in training they’re having to alternate between 3G and turf pitches, coming to the end of an intense pre-season and going into games.”

Hull FC have won four of five matches this season, including last week’s 32-12 home demolition of Widnes.

Lee Radford has only tinkered with the squad which won the Challenge Cup at Wembley last year, adding maverick Australian halfback Albert Kelly from Hull KR.

“They’ve started where they left off, the new halfback combination is working well,” said Winder, who took the media duties from Wane this week as the head coach had knee surgery.

“Albert Kelly is a different player, more of a ball runner, he complements Mark Sneyd.

“I think it was the style they were going for with Carlos Tuimavave in that position – it’s not much different to what they wanted to achieve, he’s probably just a bit more ready-made for it.

“He’s played in the halves for a long time, whereas Tuimavave is more of a centre, and it seems a good pairing for them.

“It’s going to be a big challenge for us.

“I’ve watched all their footage, and against Widnes they really clicked in the second-half and they were potent.

“In previous games, I think Lee Radford has said they weren’t at their very best but they’ve done enough to win games.

“They’ve been the better team in all of their wins, and form-wise they’re right up there, there aren’t many teams who are travelling as well as them.

“You can’t get much bigger than Challenge Cup winners against Super League winners.”

Wigan are unbeaten this season but Winder says no-one is getting carried away. “If someone had said halfway through pre-season that we’d be going into round six on top of the comp’ and having won the World Club Challenge, we’d have been fairly happy,” he added.

“But we just need to make sure we continue that progress.”

Wane will be at the helm tonight, for a game which is not televised.

Centre Oliver Gildart was not named in the 19-man squad, and prop Joe Bretherton and utility Nick Gregson could make their first appearances of the year.

Kick-off is 8pm.