Five reasons to be excited about this Wigan team ahead of the new season – and five questions which need answering...
Five reasons to be excited...
1. Sam Tomkins has had his first pre-season in nearly a decade.
He played pretty well when he came into the side last summer, without hitting his best form. Now fully-fit and with three months of solid training under his belt, there is hope he will reclaim his place as Super League’s marquee operator. And with Thomas Leuluai switching to hooker following Micky McIlorum’s exit, Tomkins may be asked to play more in the halves – he is also set to start the season with the goal-kicking duties.
2. Their lethal left-edge.
Between them, Joe Burgess, Oliver Gildart and George Williams scored 12 tries in Wigan’s first three games in 2017 and – with Liam Farrell also on their flank – they looked on fire. But injuries began to pick apart their combinations, and they never really got back to the same attacking proficiency. Now, all four are fit and firing... and ready to get back to their cohesive best.
3. French flair.
Morgan Escare was arguably Wigan’s best player at the start of last season, and his zip and elusiveness brought plenty of thrills to their early matches. But an injury in May cut-short his campaign and fans will be hoping he can rekindle his best form – in tandem with Sam Tomkins, who has yet to play alongside the former Catalans star.
4. Increased competition for prop spots.
Frank-Paul Nuuausala didn’t play well last season... but still played in every game! That fact alone underlines how limited Shaun Wane’s options were. With a full contingent all fit, Wane will hope the greater depth drives the middles to new levels, with Ben Flower, Tony Clubb, Nuuausala, Ryan Sutton, Taulima Tautai, Joel Tomkins, Gabe Hamlin and Romain Navarrete chasing spots.
5. Changes to their attack.
Wigan are not trying to “reinvent the wheel”, but they have promised tweaks to the way they play.
And five questions which need answering...
1. Young Aussie Gabriel Hamlin is the only ‘new face’ and Wigan didn’t appoint an attacking coach, as they had hoped to - will the same personnel be able to enforce the changes they want?
2. Goal-kicking was a burning issue for many fans last season. Shaun Wane addressed it by bringing in kicking coach Charlie Hodgson, and Jake Shorrocks’ return from a season out gives them another option if he can find a place in the side – but will it be enough?
3. The knock-on impact of Micky McIlorum’s move to Catalans has seen Thomas Leuluai switch to hooker – but who will play halfback? Sam Tomkins would seem the logical fit, given Morgan Escare is also fit, but Sam Powell has been handed the No.7 shirt and Wigan favoured a ‘fluid’ option in the friendly at Leigh, in which the playmakers moved positions during the match. Will it work?
4. Will Lady Luck cut Wigan a break? The last two years have been hampered by mounting injury lists - they are due some good fortune.
5. How will Dan Sarginson settle back in? He’s moved to right centre, having previously played on the left, and by his own admission he has a point to prove after being restricted to just six NRL games with Gold Coast Titans.