SHAUN Wane has sensed a “different mood” in pre-season training - and puts that down to both last season’s success and the lure of the World Club Challenge.
The showdown against Sydney Roosters on February 22 has put their preparations under sharper focus.
Many of the squad are back in training, and Wane said: “I’ve said to the players that you’re not doing this for a prize in August or October, there’s a huge one in February.
“Every player wants to be involved in that game. And they know that if I see them training well and having a dig, they’ll put their hand up for it.”
Wane says the players from last season have returned with a new level of confidence.
“And it’s obvious what’s given us that confidence,” he said yesterday during a break in a shills session at their Central Park base.
“They’ve played in big games, and they know what to do to win them. They trust in the systems.
“When you think back to the Grand Final, a lot of teams at 16-2 down against Warrington would have panicked.
“But we didn’t and we reaped the rewards. So while it’s going to be a tough pre-season, the players will quite rightly turn up with their chests out - not arrogant, but confident in what they can achieve.”
Australian stand-off Blake Green suffered a small calf injury during his first week of pre-season training, but he should be fit to rejoin the group soon.
Wigan have yet to finalise a friendly Down Under ahead of their WCC date.
“We’re looking at the options, it’s taking its time but hopefully we’ll get it sorted soon,” said Wane.
“I definitely want a hit-out there, 10 days before the game.”
Meanwhile, Wane has spoken of his pride at being shortlisted for international coach of the year.
He had no qualms with the decision to give the honour to Trent Robinson, who guided Sydney Roosters to an NRL title in his first season.
But he did feel captain Sean O’Loughlin – outstanding for England in the World Cup – should have taken the loose forward role in the RLIF player awards, instead of Brisbane’s Corey Parker.
“I was surprised to be short-listed, and I did think Trent would win it,” said Wane. “I’m not a huge awards person – what we did last year was satisfying enough.
“We had four players short-listed as well and I think Lockers can feel hard done by, I thought he had a good chance.
“Those awards seem to be very Australian-based, so I don’t get carried away with it.”
l Widnes have given head coach Denis Betts a two-year contract extension that will keep him at the Vikings to the end of 2016.
The former Wigan and Great Britain forward, 44, has been in charge of Widnes since May 2010 when he returned from a spell in rugby union and has taken them from the Championship to 10th place in Super League last season.
Widnes chief executive James Rule said: “I have been hugely impressed with the performance department that Denis has built and that he continues to evolve. He has a phenomenal work ethic and has the respect of everybody within our organisation.”
Betts. who coached Wigan for a spell, said: “We are in a really strong situation. We have a very good board of directors, playing staff and fan base but there is still so much to do.
“We are building a squad that over the next three or four years will compete at the very top.”
He is currently in Dubai competing at the sevens with the Joining Jack team.