MICHAEL Maguire has dangled a huge carrot in front of his players ahead of Wigan’s final pre-season game – insisting he has not yet picked the team that will launch their Super League defence.
While some players would appear nailed-on to land first-team places, Maguire is keeping his options open until after Warriors’ friendly against Warrington on Sunday.
And with up to six front-line stars unavailable through injury, he has challenged his available players to make the most of their opportunities in Jon Clarke’s testimonial game against the Wolves.
He said: “We’ll be picking our strongest team available for the Warrington game.
“After this game we’ve two more weeks to go until we start the season and one thing I have always done is pick the side on how the players perform, both on the pitch and in training.
“We’ve got a lot of healthy competition for places and I want the players to give me a headache.
“This’ll be a good test for us, and we’re getting very close to the opening week.
“But as far as the team goes for the Saints game, all spots are open, absolutely.”
Maguire may name his team to face Warrington as early as today and – as well as long-term absentees Brett Finch and Pat Richards – is likely to be without up to four others.
Martin Gleeson and Sam Tomkins have minor niggles, but should be fit for the start of the new campaign on February 12.
Second-rower Harrison Hansen has joined the walking wounded but, again, should be okay for the start of the season, while Maguire is increasingly hopeful prop Stuart Fielden will be fit to face St Helens in the Super League opener following a successful knee operation last Tuesday.
“We’ve got a few bumps and bruises and I’m not going to risk anyone,” he added.
Maguire, meanwhile, has once again distanced himself from speculation linking him with a return to the NRL in 2012.
One national newspaper yesterday suggested Brisbane want his services.
That followed an article last Sunday that named Canterbury, Cronulla, Manly, Penrth and St George-Illawarra as potential suitors.
Maguire – under contract until the end of 2012 – said simply: “I’m very happy here at Wigan.”