OLIVER Gildart is on course to finish the season as Wigan’s first-choice centre after being told by Shaun Wane the shirt is his to lose.
The teenager is set to make his fifth straight appearance in tomorrow night’s crunch clash against Castleford.
A victory would guarantee the Warriors a home semi-final in the play-offs – with a place in the Grand Final up for grabs.
And Gildart couldn’t have asked for a better finish to the season after only breaking into the side during the Super 8s phase.
An injury to Dan Sarginson, the departure of Iain Thornley and Anthony Gelling’s drop in form have combined to make the 19-year-old the club’s current, No.1 centre. Forward John Bateman has been covering the other role.
And Wane admits he has been surprised with the way the England academy international has settled into the senior side.
“He has surprised me a bit, yes, because earlier this year he was a fair way off, physically,” said Wane.
“But he’s worked hard in the gym, he’s stronger, and more confident.
“He’s doing everything I want from him, he’s doing the simple things well.
“He’s taken his chance, and he’s earned his place in the side. I think he’s doing a great job.
“He’s still developing, he’s going to get better and better, but he’s a smart centre, a classy footballer.
“I’m really pleased for him, he’s done well, and it’s a testament to our youth system.”
Gildart was only drafted into the first-team’s pre-season USA training camp at the last minute and has made steady progress since. The son of ex-Wigan forward Ian, he made his Super League debut while on loan at Salford and was tied down to a long-term deal earlier this season.
He has appeared in Wigan’s last four games – against Warrington, Catalans, Hull FC and St Helens – scoring three tries and looking assured.
Wane has dropped Gelling from the squad which lost 18-14 at St Helens after an erratic display, and says he “needs to change quickly”.
Liam Farrell has replaced him in the provisional squad, and is set to be reinstated to the second-row, with Bateman starting at right centre.
Winger Dom Manfredi has replaced Ryan Hampshire, who didn’t figure against Saints, in the only other change to the 19-man panel for Friday’s clash.
Fans are reminded the Under-19s Grand Final against St Helens takes place as the curtain-raiser.