Wigan Warriors are the most successful English team in the history of rugby league, but do they have the right squad to be crowned champions in 2020?
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Wigan have won the league title a staggering 22 times since their formation in 1872, they have won the Super League Grand Final five times since summer rugby began in 1998. Their last Grand Final success was in 2018 when they defeated Warrington Wolves.
Three of their five Grand Finals were won with Shaun Wane in charge. He left the club after the 2018 Grand Final win to be replaced by former scrum-half Adrian Lam. The first few months of Lam’s tenure was a learning curve as the Warriors struggled for wins, they soon improved and finished the regular season in second place.
They ended up crashing out of the play-offs in the semi-finals to Salford Red Devils. Having spoken to Lam recently, he admitted his team probably over achieved in terms of their finishing position, but he is confident of a more successful year in 2020.
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Lam has made some big-name recruitments in the off-season, most notably the signing of reigning Man of Steel Jackson Hastings and England prop forward George Burgess.
Hastings was instrumental in Salford getting to the Grand Final last season. He is a leader on the field and he can turn a game in your favour in seconds. He gave the Wigan fans a glimpse of what to expect this season when he knocked the Warriors out of the play-offs on their own turf with another eye-catching performance.
He was head and shoulders above everyone last season and deservedly won the Man of Steel award. If he continues to improve and Wigan are going well, then he could well retain his trophy.
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George Burgess is certainly one to watch at the Warriors in 2020. His NRL experience and barnstorming runs will be most welcome. Wigan’s current props Ben Flower and Tony Clubb are nearing the end of their careers, while the likes of Liam Byrne and Oliver Partington have bright futures ahead of them. Burgess will have a positive effect on all those players and it will be good to see him in Super League after spending eight years in Australia with the South Sydney Rabbitohs.
One thing Wigan have never been short of is a quality winger. In the past they have had the likes of Billy Boston, Stuart Wright, Henderson Gill, Mark Preston Martin Offiah, Jason Robinson and Pat Richards. They have at least five top-class wingers to choose from this season. Joe Burgess, Dominic Manfredi and Liam Marshall will all be vying for the two starting wing spots, while Lam could also use Bevan French or Jake Bibby there.
Bevan French is an outstanding talen and Lam has admitted he doesn’t actually know where to play him. He arrived in England from NRL side Parramatta Eels in July last season and instantly won over the crowd with six tries in eight appearances.
French can play on the wing, full-back and even in the halves. Lam understands how good he is and he is determined to find a starting place for him. It doesn’t matter where French plays, he will shine. Whether it’s full-back or on the wing, the Australian knows where the try line is and he could be in with a shout of finishing the season as top try scorer.
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The Warriors have made five new signings altogether with Bibby, Mitch Clark and Kai Pearce-Paul joining Hastings and Burgess as the new kids on the block. But it’s the current players at Wigan that have a point to prove. They massively under performed in the big games last season. They were beaten convincingly four times by champions St Helens last season, they will need to close that gap considerably if they are to be taken serious as title contenders.
Skipper Sean O’Loughlin is set to retire at the end of the season and move onto the coaching staff at the DW Stadium. O’Loughlin has had a stellar career and will go down as one of the all-time greats. This didn’t look like being the case early on in his career, a lot of fans felt he was only getting selected because he was the brother in law of Wigan legend Andy Farrell.
Over the years, he proved everyone wrong and went on to be the club captain and also captain of his country. He has lifted the Super League trophy four times as Wigan captain and he will be determined to go out a winner in his final year. O’Loughlin has never won the Man of Steel award, it would be fitting for him to collect it in his last season.
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Other players who will need to step up if Wigan are to be challenging for major honours are Tommy Leuluai, Sam Powell, Zak Hardaker, Liam Farrell and Willie Isa.
These five all had decent campaigns last season, but they will need to take it up another level if they are to stop Saints from running away with everything. Chairman Ian Lenagan recently admitted he would love a trip back to Wembley for the Challenge Cup Final, but he also said he wouldn’t mind collecting the League Leaders Shield.
The League Leaders Shield doesn’t get the recognition it deserves. Because of the Grand Final, no-one counts finishing top of the league as a major honour. That’s ridiculous, if you finish top of the league you should be recognised as the best in the competition. Wigan have not won the League Leaders Shield since 2012, but as long as they start well and stay clear of serious injuries then they are in with a shout.
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