The 18th man: I honestly do think a treble is on the cards for Wigan Warriors
Welcome to the 18th man column, where you, the fans, get to have your say on all things Warriors ...
What’s exciting you about the new season? (and anything concerning you?)
Jeanette Lusher: I am excited by the quality and balance of our squad. The competition for places is going to be so intense ensuring that each squad member is feeling the pressure to perform. The combination of youthful enthusiasm and senior experience is brilliant. I am excited that our front row has been strengthened with the introduction of George Burgess and feel sure that Ollie Partington and Liam Byrne will rise to the challenge of securing a first team spot. My concern is the same each season and that is injuries! However, should we stay relatively injury free then the prospect of how strong our bench will be is quite mouth-watering.
David Bailey: Ah, the excitement of Round One of Super League – even fans of Huddersfield are tinged with optimism! There’s a lot to be excited about this season for the Warriors. A settled balanced squad, a couple of big-name signings, youngsters that have proved their mettle in adversity. I guess my big concern is that Saints were head and shoulders above everyone last season and Wigan never looked like competing. Wigan need to be consistent and show some attacking threat, which hopefully a bigger pack and #31 playing off the back will assist with.
Sean Lawless: I am excited about Wigan’s recruitment this year and the fact that this feels like a team with Lam’s influence. Last season was very much a season of transition but no so thing this year, players like French, Hastings and Burgess give an X Factor to Wigan and they have to perform – which is very exciting but at the same time, concerning. It is always a concern when a there is a level of expectation upon a side, as to how they deal with that – however, I do think Wigan have the personalities in their squad to handle the extra pressure.
Robert Kenyon: I’m excited about the whole of Super League seems to have upped a notch with regards to player rosters. The likes of Sonny Bill Williams, James Maloney, Gareth Widdop, Aidan Sezer, George Burgess, Manu Ma’u etc It makes me really excited for the season to start. The only thing concerning me is the upcoming TV deal, that deal could be the one that propels us as a sport to the next level which we desperately need or pegs us back for the next 10 years, a massive cash injection is long overdue and I’d like to see Sky get behind the sport to allow us to compete with the NRL and Union and become the amazing Friday and Saturday night TV spectacle we were 10-15 years ago. I think by having all those big name and quality new signings may get us a better deal we need.
Alex Graham: I can’t remember the last time I was as excited for the season to start as I am for Super League 2020. This will be the second season since Super League was released from the shackles of The RFL and in this short period of time we’ve seen our top competition go through an overhaul of our playoff system, a total re-brand, attracted some of world’s most renown players from both codes and we’ve introduced a new club from another continent nearly 4,000 miles away from the M62. Changes which were well overdue and more importantly a sign of commitment to Sky and other broadcasters we hope will be bidding for broadcasting rights in 2021.
However, is it too little too late to convince Sky and other broadcasters of Super League’s commercial appeal? I wouldn’t be surprised if Robert Elstone, Ian Lenagan, Hull’s Adam Pearson and any other negotiators from Super League request at least one year’s extension from Sky.
Jon Lyon: What is not to get excited about? Greater squad depth, a much bigger pack physically, the current Man of Steel, Dom Manfredi back fit again, Bevan French’s lightening pace and footwork, the determination to send Tommy and Lockers out on a winning note, the development of our fantastic young forwards and Harry Smith – I feel like a kid at Christmas.
I suppose my only concerns would be a slight lack of depth in the back row and where Hardaker will play. If he’s at centre to cover until Gildart is fit then fine, but Zak is a much better full-back than centre and his performances last year should have earned him the number 1 shirt.
Darren Wrudd: After a year of turmoil, Wigan could have fallen in a heap – but instead defied all odds and made it to second place overall. Imagine with the extra signings that we have now, the squad being almost 100% fit – imagine just what we can do if we manage to stay injury free. Excitement does not come in a bigger package than our new star prop. Seeing George Burgess at the pre-season dinner was eye opening. Add to that Hastings’ magic in the middle and the fantastic Zak Hardaker who looks fit and hungry, just saying it out loud is enough to get me excited – roll on 2020.
Which Wigan player are you most looking forward to seeing play?
Jeanette Lusher: In the forwards, I am looking to see the continued development of Joe Bullock. Last season, before his injury, Joe was pack leader and made some good hard yards and nice off loads.
In the backs I like what I see of Jake Bibby and feel that life at the Warriors will bring out the very best in him. He has every chance of a first team spot whilst Oli is recovering, and I am excited at the prospect of him linking up with Jackson Hastings. Jake attacks well, but his strength for me lies in his defence.
David Bailey: I could be lazy and say I want to see Hastings do it at the highest level, or I could say I want George Burgess to wash away my doubts about his temperament (his ability isn’t in question). But for me, I’m excited to see the Bash Street Kids (Partington, Byrne, and mainly Smithies). All three came in and stood up like men last season. The way they got under the skin of the seasoned pros of the opposition had Wiganers bursting with pride and they have that mongrel-type attitude we sorely miss from John Bateman.
Sean Lawless: The obvious choice has to be one of the new signings, but I think I am most excited about seeing the development of Sam Powell. Halfway through last season, Powell switched from what I would describe as a passive hooker, someone who would get the ball from A to B and defend hard, but someone who opposition defences wouldn’t be too concerned about – into a more dynamic attacking threat. We saw more runs from dummy half and a more attacking intent, an obvious and deliberate transition in his game. With a full preseason under Adrian Lam’s tutelage with that attacking intent, I think Powell will be one of the stand-out performers in Super League this year.
Robert Kenyon: I’m looking forwards to seeing Dom Manfredi play, because of what he’s been through to get back onto the pitch and what he’s capable of it on the pitch. There’s be no better sight this season than seeing him firing on all cylinders full of confidence.
Alex Graham: We’ve been spoiled with new recruits for the 2020 season with all eyes naturally being on the competition’s headline signing & Man of Steel Jackson Hastings and George Burgess from the famous South Sydney Grand Final winning Burgess Brothers. There will also be a lot of focus, as ever, on the new breed after Morgan Smithies, Oliver Partington and Liam Byrne spent 2019 going toe to toe with Super League’s hairiest backsides. I predict 2020 will be the year Harry Smith breaks though in a similar fashion to George Williams in 2013 and 2014.
But in an era when rugby league has become so structured, a quick and elusive player like Bevan French is a breath of fresh air. In a similar mould to Amos Roberts there’s an expectation every time he touches the ball.
Jon Lyon: With a full pre-season to get used to our systems, Bevan French should light up Super League this year and it will be fascinating to see how Hastings leads the team around the pitch.
Neither comes close to seeing Dom Manfredi back again. I would happily spend the next nine months hunting four leaf clovers and picking pennies up if it means an injury free season for Dom. A fully fit Manfredi is the perfect winger and watching him in full flight is as exciting as rugby league gets.
Darren Wrudd: Honestly, it’s hard to single a player out and no doubt many will be on the edge of their seats to see what Hastings can bring to the party, but I am most thrilled to be so close to being able to watch Dom Manfredi take to the field in anger once more. Many will forget just how good this lad is and how he can wreak havoc with the opposition – but it will be like a new signing all over again. This young man is pure class and his determination and strength of character to fight his way back to fitness is inspiring.
How do you think Wigan will do this season? And who will be their biggest rivals for a trophy?
Jeanette Lusher: The Warriors will do well this season and I am confident of them securing silverware. My confidence lies in our heavier pack, our squad depth and the pressure from our youth. In the friendly (I use the term loosely) at Leigh our young players defended so valiantly and were very impressive. They are certainly breathing down the necks of senior players. Lammy has good cover should, heaven forbid, injuries prevail but also has choices to rotate the players during a long season. The Warriors got off to a disastrous start last season, but I feel they will pick up where they left off with the storming run in the second half of the league! The players desire to avenge the defeats of last season against Saints and Wolves will surely be the key to their success!
There is going to be some hard-fought battles in 2020 for several teams have invested wisely and strengthened well. How quickly teams blend together is a factor and I feel that Saints have the edge here as their squad is picking up where they left off. Yes, they do have the new coach – but he has probably only made minor adjustments to the way they play. I see the biggest rivals as Saints and Wolves with possibly Hull also being a contender. I see Huddersfield as the sleeping giants excuse the pun!
David Bailey: Wigan will no doubt be trying on all fronts and if they get off to a flyer and benefit from a much better, more settled pre-season knowing full well Lam is here for a while, then there is no reason. Why they can’t challenge. Obviously, the main aim is to peak for a grand final shit – but it is about time Wigan had another engraving on the Challenge Cup. I don’t think Saints will have it easy this season with a new coach and a target on them, and I think Warrington will be much improved. Toronto will be a fascinating watch as the first transatlantic pro-sports team, too.
Sean Lawless: I think Wigan will have a successful year and will have one or two trophies at the end of it; the quality in their squad but perhaps more crucially, the squad depth will ensure they are challenging on all fronts this season. Winning the League Leaders Shield would be a nice caveat that could help going into the play offs and something that Wigan have not achieved for a few years now, however a trip to Wembley in July is my biggest hope. St Helens will be challenging this season, as they were last year.
Their lack of recruitment and change in coach may bring that back a couple of gears compared to last season but they have well established partnerships and experience across the field, so they will certainly by challenging for silverware once again this season.
Robert Kenyon: I think we will do well in the league, possibly a top two finish again, perhaps win the Challenge Cup and might get to a Grand Final. We have a much improved squad with a big meat injection in the front row in George Burgess and Hastings pulling the strings. I’d say Saints are getting the plaudits, but they’ve lost Holbrook and their squad is very thin – you take Roby and Lomax out of their side and they’re struggling. Warrington have a very good coach and the squad, so they are going to be top three and possibly a Grand Final appearance. Hull FC have a massive Polynesian contingent – if they start firing, they’ll do well. Leeds and Catalans will fail to live up to expectations as usual with Castleford and Huddersfield having steady seasons with all four fighting it out for the last play-off place. Toronto might win a couple, but it’ll be Hull KR winning the wooden spoon for me.
Alex Graham: A club the size of Wigan with such significant investment, youth structure and facilities always have an expectation of some form of success – but anything less than one trophy this season will be a failure. I thought last season met expectations considering the departure of such influential personalities following the 2018 Grand Final win, but with a season now under his belt and the being given the funds to sign a flurry of players including the reigning Man of Steel there will be pressure on Adrian Lam to deliver a trophy and finish in the top two during the regular season.
I think St Helens will be our biggest rivals for 2020. Other than Justin Holbrook, there hasn’t been much change to their squad and with a new coach to impress they’ll remain consistent. With the amount of investment and noise being made by Challenge cup holders Warrington they also have to be considered as trophy rivals. However, with Warrington CEO and Wigan-lad Karl Fitzpatrick opting for marketing-led players such as Anthony Gelling and an injury-prone Gareth Widdop will there be a huge fall-out between club, coach and fans should they fail... again? I hope so.
Jon Lyon: With the talent and depth we have in the squad, there is no reason why we shouldn’t be aiming for all three trophies. We’ve no World Club Challenge to affect us early in the year and if we start well then why should we fear anyone? As always injuries will play a big part and if we avoid too many then we should be able to compete on all fronts.
St Helens have pretty much the same squad as last year, and plenty talented young lads and will undoubtedly be our closest rivals. Warrington have the usual big names, but their season depends too much on Widdop’s fitness, and his recent record isn’t great. I expect Hull to finally get closer to achieving their potential, especially if they can get the best out of Jake Connor and they may finish third and reach a cup final. Leeds, Castleford and Catalans could all push for the play offs – but I don’t see enough in their squads to challenge for silverware. I’m still against Toronto’s inclusion and their salary cap demands aren’t changing my mind.
Darren Wrudd: Lots of ifs and buts in that question – if we stay fit and healthy being the main one. All things equal we have a chance to have a very special year in 2020. The squad looks great, full of class and some super competition for places in every area should keep everyone on their toes. With a settled coaching staff as Lam gets a proper pre-season under his belt, I expect us to challenge from the off and finish top. A treble beckons – and if that sounds arrogant, I do not apologise. We have bought well, trained well and spoken well of our intentions. Now it’s time to put it all into practice and hit the ground running.