Competition for Wigan Warriors prop spots intense, says Adrian Lam

Oliver Partington will be hoping to build on his impressive 2019
Oliver Partington will be hoping to build on his impressive 2019

Adrian Lam believes prop may be the most fiercely-contested spot in his side next year.

Lam has eight front-rowers who will have realistic goals of laying claim to a place in his side when the new season begins at the end of next month.

New recruits Mitch Clark and marquee man George Burgess will add a physical presence to Lam’s front-row options.

Tony Clubb, Ben Flower and Romain Navarrete remain in the picture for 2020.

Joe Bullock – signed a year ago from Barrow – is back on board after his impressive debut campaign was cut short in the summer by injury.

And academy-products Oliver Partington and Liam Byrne will be battle-hardened after impressive breakthrough campaigns.

“You’d probably say the competition at prop is the strongest,” said Lam.

“As well as the players who’ve come in and who’ve already been there, you’ve also got young forwards like Ethan Havard and Joe Shorrocks – who I’m a big fan of – coming through.

“So there’s a fair bit of pressure there, and that’s exactly when we needed.

“You’ve got to remember, too, that last season we had Clubb out for half a season, Flower out for half a season, Bullock out for half a season – the injuries ran pretty deep.

“So we’ve got plenty of options.”

Wigan used the marquee player allowance – in which only a portion of a player’s lucrative salary counts on the cap – to sign England international Burgess from Souths.

Barring injury, suspension or an alarming drop in form, he would appear nailed on for one of the four or five spots in Lam’s matchday squad – two starting, and up to three on the bench.

Veteran Clubb has been handed a ‘starting’ squad number (8) with Welshman Flower at No.14.

An uncertainty, at this stage, is where Clark starts in the pecking order. He was signed after impressing for Castleford, who subsequently froze him out of their side and then released him to join Leigh.

The Kiwi started training with Wigan two weeks before pre-season began to give himself the best chance of earning a place in Lam’s side.

Partington – No.17 – shared the club’s young player of the year prize with Morgan Smithies, who will be jostling for a backrow spot.

And Byrne – who debuted in February – was a regular face in the side during their charge into the play-offs.

Their development compensated for the departure of overseas duo Taulima Tautai and Gabe Hamlin during the season, while towering academy-product Havard also debuted in 2019.

“I need the older players to really play well and find that burning flame to go again,” said Lam.

“Because there will be a little bit more competition and that’s exactly what we need to be successful.”