Wigan Warriors: Seven burning questions before new season
When will fans return?
When last season resumed after a five month shutdown, it did so behind-closed-doors.
Many clubs are already selling season tickets for 2021 and Wigan expect theirs to go on sale soon.
Despite the current lockdown, the rollout of the vaccine programmes gives hope fans will be back in at some stage this year, but when? And will crowds be limited, like in tier two areas before Christmas?
Where will Jai Field fit in?
Wigan retained both their half-backs (Jackson Hastings and Thomas Leuluai), as well as full-back Bevan French.
And yet they still signed Jai Field who, by all accounts, will add even more pace and excitement to their attack in 2021.
But where will he play? Wigan will start the season without Liam Marshall and Field is certainly quick enough to play on the flank, but it seems more likely he will settle into his preferred position, as a running stand-off. Sam Powell has the engine to motor through 80 minutes, but we saw last year how Leuluai and Hastings were able to switch into dummy-half when Powell was rested – which often saw Harry Smith injected from the bench.
Will Field be competing with Smith for a bench spot?
Or will he start alongside Hastings, and Leuluai – 36 in the summer – play more as a bench-hooker?
How much will Super League’s new TV deal be worth?
The current broadcasting contract with Sky Sports expires this year and Super League clubs were so keen to secure a good deal, they took control of the competition in 2018 and appointed their own boss, Robert Elstone. Sky Sports has tabled a new deal but it has not been accepted.
Sky News had reported their offer is for £20m a year – around half the current amount. As the proposed new contract would solely be for Super League, and not include funding for lower-league clubs, it’s thought each top-flight club would receive about two-thirds of the £2m a year amount they currently get.
To put that into context, Wigan’s turnover was £6.5m in 2019, so such a reduction would be a blow to them and other top-flight clubs.
Will Super League stick with Sky Sports? It seems likely, but for how long... and for how much?
Will George Burgess be fit?
The prop arrived at the club with plenty of fanfare and expectations, and with good reason.
Wigan used the marquee player allowance to sign him on a lucrative contract and prise him away from the NRL, where the England international had won a Grand Final with Souths. But he figured in just seven matches last term, playing for short spells, as he battled a persistent hip problem.
Burgess saw a specialist last month and it is unclear what course of action will be taken to try and get him back to full fitness.
How will Wigan manage their young players?
In recent years it’s been tough. This year, it looks even tougher.
The academy has been suspended due to Covid-19, the reserves has been scrapped for a year – as a cost-cutting measure – and the option of sending fringe players on dual-registration (effectively week-to-week loans) with lower league clubs has been removed as part of the protocol around the pandemic.
Wigan still have the option of sending players on loan, either with Super League or lower league clubs, but those agreements must be for at least a month before they can be extended week-to-week.
That in itself presents a potential risk – imagine letting, say, Harry Smith go on a month’s loan and then losing a half-back to injury the following week.
But keeping players at the club without them being able to play may lead to frustration or, worse, risk stalling their development.
Centre Chris Hankinson has already joined London on a season-long loan – at 27, he needs to be playing regularly – but what about all the young players on the fringes of Adrian Lam’s squad?
When will we see Shaun Wane’s England in action?
Former Wigan coach Shaun Wane has been in charge of the national side for nearly a year.
But the pandemic wiped out the Ashes series and has even prevented him from holding any training sessions with the England players.
Wane has been busy preparing for the World Cup, and keeping in contact with players, but will we have to wait until the autumn before we see what Wane’s England looks like?
Or will there be a game in the summer, possibly against a revived Exiles as he hopes?
And when they do get on the field, what kind of England team will Wane pick?
How will the new season look?
We know the start date has been postponed by two weeks, to late March.
But does that mean the campaign will be trimmed from 27 rounds? If so, to how many games? Will Magic Weekend still go ahead?
Will the play-offs involve five teams or be slimmed-down to four, like in 2020?
And when the games do get underway, will there be scrums or not?