SHAUN Wane has shook off Wigan’s tag as ‘favourites’ for Super League glory – and told his players to focus on the tough stuff tonight.
Bookmakers fancy the Warriors to be crowned champions at the end of the season, which gets underway today with a televised trip to Widnes.
Captain Sean O’Loughlin will lead out the team which will include new recruits Taulima Tautai and Larne Patrick, and have young George Williams calling the shots at stand-off.
Wane may forgive some early teething problems as the new combinations knit together and the players to settle into a familiar groove.
But the 2013 double-winning coach says he will not tolerate any lack of desire from his team, as they aim to post their first points of the new-look competition.
He said: “The favourites tag doesn’t bother me. What people think of us – it has no bearing on what we do and how we do things, whether it’s good or bad.
“Whether we’re favourite or not, we’re going to treat every game like a must-win, and it starts with a tough game at Widnes. I know that if we play like we can, we will challenge Widnes. But the important thing is we match their intensity. We need to do the tough stuff, we need our middles to run hard, be aggressive, be enthusiastic. We’ve got to want it more than them.”
Wane admits the Select Security Stadium’s synthetic pitch provides Widnes with a “huge advantage”, and is mindful of the fact their ex-Wigan players often raise their game to face their old club.
Kevin Brown, Eamon O’Carroll, Joe Mellor, Stefan Marsh and Cameron Phelps are in their squad, though there is no place for winter transfer Gil Dudson.
Wigan have trained on an artificial pitch over the last few weeks to prepare for tonight’s ‘iPitch’. “The players have had a chance to get acclimatised to the surface, because it is different to a normal pitch,” he said.
“It is a huge advantage for them, because they train on it day-in, day-out.”
Wane has reservations about the new competition structure, mainly because of concerns it may impact on young players’ development.
But he does admit the fear factor of missing out on the top ‘Super 8’ - and the cut to a top-four play-offs - will amp up the week-to-week intrigue.
“I think it’s going to be really tough, really exciting,” he said. “So many teams have strengthened, and the mentality at this club is to improve on what we’ve done.”