A year today since Wigan Warriors played in front fans on home soil
Wigan are preparing for their first game of 2021 – at the same ground where they last played in front of a crowd on home soil a year ago.
This Saturday marks 12 months since the Warriors took on Salford at the AJ Bell Stadium, just before the first national lockdown.
On Sunday, they return to the same venue for their only pre-season friendly and with fans still absent.
The only match to feature supporters since the season restarted last summer was in France, when a limited crowd of 5,000 saw Adrian Lam’s side beat Catalans 28-12 last September.
“It was weird when we started playing in front of no crowds but we’ve done it for so long, I think it might be strange at first when we do go back to normal,” said hooker Sam Powell.
“It’ll be like playing as a kid again in one of the big games!
"Normally, a game at the DW on a Friday night in front of a big crowd, you can’t really hear what’s said, so it was quite funny listening to all the sledging and the talk when we started playing behind closed doors.
“But I’m certainly looking forward to welcoming the fans back.”
After a long pre-season Powell is looking forward to getting back into the old routine, with their first match since losing November’s epic Grand Final 8-4.
St Helens needed a last-second try from former Shevington Sharks junior Jack Welsby to snatch victory, having failed to pierce Wigan’s defence until then.
“It was a crazy year and a crazy Grand Final,” reflected hooker Powell.
“It sounds strange but it’s probably not sunk in yet.
“I see it as a missed opportunity but I can’t feel disappointed with the way we played.
“Saints are a great team and we felt pretty strong... I actually had a bit of a laugh with Brad Singleton the other say when I said, ‘Did we only concede a try in the last second?’
“To do so well and lose like that... it’s crazy.”
Powell is widely regarded as one of the most under-rated players in the Wigan side.
Yet despite being a key player in the side, the 28-year-old is not resting on his laurels.
“I’m always aiming for improvement, as long as I’m getting better and my team-mates appreciate what I’m doing then I’m happy,” said the academy product.
“You have to be honest enough to look at what are other hookers are doing and see if there’s anything you can pick from their game.
“I’m always looking to get better. I wasn’t happy with how many tries I was scoring so I addressed that last year.”