Wigan go into the 2018 Super League campaign reliant on their star players.
Captain: Sean O’Loughlin
Coach: Shaun Wane
2017 Position: Regular season – 7th. Super 8s – 6th.
Shaun Wane says the pressure is on Wigan to perform in 2018 after losing their Super League crown in disappointing fashion last season Key player – George Williams
Where would Wigan have been without George Williams in 2017? They flattered to deceive in the regular season and then missed out on a top-four spot in the Super 8s.
But Williams continued to dazzle, providing the most assists in Super League (29) and also scoring 11 tries.
Wigan looked like a one-man band at times and Williams terrorised defences with that devastating turn of step.
Many expected him to take the World Cup by storm as well, but he struggled to force his way into Wayne Bennett’s starting side.
The plus side of that for the Warriors is that Williams has a point to prove this season. The club tied him down amid strong interest from the NRL and as key man he can establish himself as one of Super League’s superstars in 2018.
Fresh Face – Gabriel Hamlin
It’s been an underwhelming off-season in terms of new signings for Wigan. Dan Sarginson has returned from the NRL, effectively replacing the departing Anthony Gelling and the young Australian, Gabriel Hamlin, is the only other new face, coming in from South Sydney Rabbitohs.
Hamlin is just 21, but the prop forward is highly rated. He never made an NRL appearance for the Rabbitohs, but Hamlin looks like a real prospect. Shaun Wane will be able to mould him into a decent option.
One to watch – Sam Tomkins
It seems ridiculous to select the world’s most expensive Rugby League player as one to watch for the new season, but Sam Tomkins is about to start a career-defining season.
He’s been blighted by injuries since his return to the Warriors and is yet to show the sort of talent that made the New Zealand Warriors fork out £700,000 for his services in 2013.
Tomkins also missed out on World Cup selection, despite Zak Hardaker being unavailable following his drugs ban.
But there’s no doubt Tomkins at his very best is a top drawer. The only question is whether he will feature in the halves or at full-back this season. In terms of young players, keep an eye out for hooker Josh Ganson, the son of former Super League referee Steve.
He could be the breakout player of 2018.
Reasons for optimism
There’s not as much expectancy on Wigan this season. St Helens are highly fancied in some quarters. Castleford will be expected to perform as they did in 2017. Warrington have spent their money. And Leeds, as defending champions, are simply Leeds.
That might take the pressure off the Warriors. They’ve still got star turns in George Williams, a man capable of winning games on his own, to the Tomkins brothers, Liam Farrell, John Bateman and the evergreen captain Sean O’Loughlin.
There’s a core of quality that other teams simply don’t possess. Throw in developing players like Liam Marshall, Tom Davies and Jake Shorrocks and you’ve got a talented squad.
Don’t write Wigan off just yet.
Super League Super 8s
February 1, 2018, 11:00am
Get Sky Sports Get a Sky Sports pass Reasons for concern
It’s been a strange off-season for Wigan. Despite last year’s failure in the league, recruitment has been quiet and Dan Sarginson’s return to the club was only sealed in the middle of December.
And then there are the departures. Announced on the same day, January 2, both Michael McIlorum and Anthony Gelling, both popular long-serving players, left for pastures new.
Gelling has returned to New Zealand, signing for the Warriors, while hooker McIlorum has gone to Catalans Dragons to launch a new career with Steve McNamara’s men.
It appears to leave Wigan short in numbers, effectively releasing two top quality players with no signings in return.
That could cost them in 2018?