LIAM Farrell hopes Wigan’s settled squad gives them an “edge” on their rivals when Super League roars back into life.
Champions Leeds have made a clutch of new signings to try and replace veterans Kevin Sinfield and Jamie Peacock, while some other clubs – including Warrington, Catalans, Hull FC and Salford – have overhauled parts of their squads.
By contrast, Willie Isa is the only newcomer to the Warriors’ environment. And Farrell, 25, hopes that allows them to steal a march on their rivals when the new campaign gets underway next week.
He said: “It could be something which does help us, you’ve got to look for advantages and hopefully that’s one for us. Sam (Tomkins) has come back in and, of course, he knows what we’re all about, and Willie has done a great job – he’s not looked out of place – so I think on that front we may have an edge on people.”
Of their Super League rivals, Farrell expect St Helens, Leeds and Warrington to present the strongest challenges this season.
And with the play-offs now just involving four teams – as well as a greater emphasis on finishing the 30-rounds in top-spot – the England Test forward hopes a strong start will put them in good stead to get among the pace-setters.
Shaun Wane has stressed how their sluggish opening last season ultimately came back to bite them, when they missed out on the league leaders’ shield by points difference.
“I can’t remember the last time we made a good start,” said Farrell. “It’s massive for us to do that this year.
“But other teams have been training just as hard and they will have the same idea.” History suggests Wigan’s high number of England internationals has contributed to their poor starts in the past.
Wane has tried to combat that problem by easing Test players Sean O’Loughlin, Matty Smith, John Bateman, George Williams and Farrell back into training.
Williams is the only one of those to play in pre-season, when he had a run against Salford which was cut short before half-time.
“They’ve trusted us not to be involved in the friendlies, and it’s put a bit more pressure on us coming back – we have to perform in that first game,” added Farrell.
“All we’ve spoke about is making sure we get off to a good start to the year.”
Wigan open the season at home to Catalans next Friday.
Farrell will be returning as a Wigan Evening Post columnist this season, starting next Thursday in a new, weekly Warriors pull-out.