Can Steve Price go out with a bang?
There have been more departures than arrivals at the Halliwell Jones Stadium, including some significant ones.
The biggest loss for Warrington is Ben Murdoch-Masila who has joined New Zealand Warriors in the NRL after a successful stint in Super League with both the Wolves and, initially, Salford Red Devils.
Murdoch-Masila gave them size and punch on the edge, having played 58 Super League games in three seasons, scoring 13 tries.
Anthony Gelling has been released by the club after just one season, when he played eleven Super League game and scored six tries. It wasn’t a trouble-free spell with Warrington for Gelling off the field, but on the field, while he didn’t shine, he held his own.
Declan Patton’s time with Warrington also came to an end over the winter after six seasons and 87 Super League appearances. He was never able to completely seal a place in the starting side, initially with Kevin Brown and Kurt Gidley and later with Blake Austin and Gareth Widdop at the club. His move to Salford is a good one all round, as is also true for Harvey Livett, who departs Warrington after a spell on loan with Hull KR.
Elsewhere, Keanan Brand, Riley Dean and Samy Kibula have all left on season-long loans, while Luis Johnson has moved to Hull KR in search for more consistent game time.
Most recently Leilani Latu was released from the remainder of his contract. The Tongan prop failed to make a significant impact after signing from Gold Coast Titans.
Warrington have been selective with their recruits this year, but they have made one massive signing in the iconic Greg Inglis.
The Queensland and Australia star is coming out of retirement after having spent a year with South Sydney Rabbitohs’ coaching staff. Even considering his age, his signing is one of the most exciting in Super League history. Having played 263 NRL games over 15 seasons, he must go down as one of the best players of all time, considering his success at all levels of the game.
His last game was on 21 March 2019 for South Sydney against Sydney Roosters, almost two years ago. So the worry for Warrington is how his body will hold up when he returns to first-grade action at the age of 34.
But if he can recapture some of the form that made him a superstar, then the Wolves could plenty of success in 2021.
Warrington’s two other signings handily bolster their pack depth and are a nod to the future of the club.
Rob Butler, 22, comes in from London Broncos and Robbie Mulhern, 26, joins from Hull KR. Both have the best years of their career ahead of them and will help to add more youth to the Wolves’ go-forward, with both Mike Cooper, 32, and Chris Hill, 33, not getting any younger.
Warrington’s spine is a vastly experienced one and is full of talent. It ranks as one of the best and most experienced in the competition.
Stefan Ratchford is a leader from fullback, but can also fill in numerous other positions on the field, including loose forward, which we saw last year. Matty Ashton provides cover for the fullback role with his brilliant speed. He had a great year in 2020, his first year in the top division after signing from Swinton.
In the halves, Blake Austin and Gareth Widdop are two highly decorated players who ooze quality, although arguably they never quite gelled as well as they might have done in 2020. It remains to be seen whether they will bring the best out of each other in 2021.
We saw flashes of greatness from Widdop last year but we were left wanting more, while Austin didn’t quite hit the heights he did in 2019.
Daryl Clark will fill the hooking role and he is ably assisted by Danny Walker, who regularly comes off the bench and makes a significant impact on the field.
Clark has been with Warrington since 2015 and has improved year on year with the club.
Warrington also have two young players in Josh Thewlis and Riley Dean who are able to cover spine positions, although it was a surprise to some that the Wolves announced last week that Dean would head to York on a season-long loan in 2021.
Warrington’s pack is an experienced and deep one. Both front-row forwards, Chris Hill and Mike Cooper, are well into the veteran stage and have held the Wolves’ pack together since Cooper returned in 2017 from a three-year spell in the NRL with St George Illawarra Dragons
The second-row also has plenty of experience and features the Wolves’ new captain Jack Hughes. Hughes is still only 29, so this is a decision with the future in mind so he could be set to be the club captain for a good many years to come. And he will partner Ben Currie, who will be making a bid to secure selection for England in this year’s World Cup. The two have formed a back row partnership since Hughes’ arrival from Huddersfield Giants in 2016.
Another player with England ambitions is Joe Philbin, who has been promoted to take the number 13 shirt with Ben Murdoch-Masila’s departure. Philbin is a Great Britain international and he is also ambitious to further his international career.
Outside the likely starting six, the Wolves have huge depth in their pack, with Jason Clark, Matt Davis, Robbie Mulhern, Sitaleki Akauola and Rob Butler all battling for places either in the starting lineup or on the bench, backed up by several young players who got their first taste of first-team action in 2020 and will be battling for more game time in 2021
Just like in the pack, Warrington’s threequarter line is also full of stars.
Greg Inglis will no doubt gain a lot of plaudits coming into the season in the centres, but Toby King had a sensational year in 2020 on the left for Warrington and if any of Warrington’s opponents forget about King, while concentrating on Inglis, then King will likely cause them huge problems.
Then on the wing, Tom Lineham and Josh Charnley both have a long history of scoring tries in Super League.
Those four will clearly be the favourites for the starting positions, at least at the start of the season, but they will face pressure for their places from Matty Ashton and Jake Mamo, who both provide more than adequate cover in the threequarters, while Josh Thewlis and Nathan Roebuck add further depth to the Wolves’ threequarter ranks.
Warrington have plenty of young faces knocking on the door of the first team.
And in fact the Wolves have shipped three players out on loan for the season in Samy Kibula, Keanan Brand and Riley Dean to Newcastle Thunder, Leigh Centurions and York City Knights respectively in the hope that they will gain a lot from more first-team experience away from the Halliwell Jones Stadium.
Ellis Robson has progressed well within the youth system and made five Super League appearances last year and will be looking to add more this year, while there are also a handful of other players sitting close to the first team who will be waiting for an opportunity to play in Super League again.
Eribe Doro has long been regarded as a young prop forward to watch, while Ellis Robson, Ellis Longstaff and Conor Wrench will be hoping for chances in the back row as the season unfolds. They may find them later in the season in July and August as clubs begin to play more than once per week and squads are stretched.
A REALISTIC AIM FOR 2021
Warrington have a realistic aim of taking every trophy home this season, without a doubt, although their prospects do perhaps depend on key players, especially in their spine, not suffering serious injury blows.
This will be Steve Price’s last season in charge of the Wolves and no doubt his players would like to send him home on a high with at least one major trophy. It would be great for the Warrington fans to celebrate Price’s achievements for their club with a victory at Old Trafford on 9th October.
The Wolves squad is more than capable of achieving that aim, but it has to ensure that, unlike in 2020, it doesn’t run out of gas towards the end of the season.
Squad numbers: 1 Stefan Ratchford, 2 Tom Lineham, 3 Greg Inglis, 4 Toby King, 5 Josh Charnley, 6 Blake Austin, 7 Gareth Widdop, 8 Chris Hill, 9 Daryl Clark, 10 Mike Cooper, 11 Ben Currie, 12 Jack Hughes, 13 Joe Philbin, 14 Jason Clark, 15 Matt Davis, 16 Danny Walker, 17 Matty Ashton, 18 Jake Mamo, 19 Robbie Mulhern, 20 Sitaleki Akauola, 21 Rob Butler, 22 Ellis Robson, 23 Josh Thewlis, 24 Riley Dean, 25 Eribe Doro, 26 Ellis Longstaff, 27 Connor Wrench, 28 Nathan Roebuck, 29 Jacob Gannon
Ins: Rob Butler (London Broncos), Greg Inglis (Free agent), Robbie Mulhern (Hull Kingston Rovers)
Outs: Keanan Brand (Leigh Centurions – season-long loan), Riley Dean (York City Knights – season-long loan), Anthony Gelling (Released), Luis Johnson (Hull Kingston Rovers), Samy Kibula (Newcastle Thunder – season-long loan), Leilani Latu (Released), Harvey Livett (Salford Red Devils), Ben Murdoch-Masila (New Zealand Warriors), Declan Patton (Salford Red Devils)
Head Coach: Steve Price
Assistant Coach: Lee Briers
Assistant Coach: Andrew Henderson
Head of Rugby Operations/Player Welfare: Kylie Leuluai
Head of Analysts: Jack Phillips
Head Physio: Nick Murphy
Head of Performance: Ade Gardner
Strength and Conditioning Coach: Chris Baron
Nutritionist: Dan Richardson
Assistant Physio: Luke Edmonds
Strength and Conditioning: Joe McLoughlin
Head of Kit and Equipment: Pete Moran
Kit man: Bob Moore
Chairman: Stuart Middleton
Vice Chairman: Prof Steven Broomhead
Chief Executive: Karl Fitzpatrick
Head of Marketing and Match-Day Sales: Paul MacLeod
Communications Manager: Rachel Arnett
Fan Services and Community Marketing Manager: Clair Gamble
Commercial Account Manager: Ashley Moore
Ticketing and Membership Manager: Emma McEvoy
Finance Manager: Neil Dawson
Stadium Manager: Marc Weall
Head of Retail: Nicola Bell
Foundation Director: Neil Kelly
Home shirt: Primrose with blue hoops
Away Shirt: Green with white and red stripes
Betfred odds to win the Grand Final: 6/1
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