Wigan season preview 2012

By Ged ScottBBC Sport
Wigan Wembley winners again
Until August's 28-18 Challenge Cup Final victory over Leeds, Wigan had not been Wembley winners since their record-breaking eighth successive triumph in 1995

It's not so much a new era for Wigan, more a return to old ways when Super League XVII kicks off at the DW Stadium this weekend.

Michael Maguire has moved on after two successful trophy-winning years in Lancashire, in which the Cherry and Whites finished top of the pile in 2010 before going on to win the Grand Final, followed by last season's Challenge Cup success at Wembley.

But, in having promoted Maguire's number two Shaun Wane to succeed the Australian, the Warriors have one of their old guard at the helm.

Not only that, former Wigan forward Wane has brought in Welshman Iestyn Harris, one of the modern game's more successful operators, as his number two, following the collapse of Crusaders.

And, although old stagers Paul Deacon and Andy Coley have hung up their boots, and the Warriors will no doubt miss rugby union convert Joel Tomkins, Wigan still have plenty of experience out on the park.

Although still the right side of 30, they do not come much more experienced than Sean O'Loughlin.

And the captain has proven campaigners like Pat Richards, George Carmont and Thomas Leuluai alongside him to lead into battle.

Not to mention a fit-again Stuart Fielden, who is available again after knee surgery and Amos Roberts, who, apart from a few squad appearances at end of last season, has not featured since suffering a cruciate knee ligament injury in April 2010. If fully fit and on form, both would be like having new signings.

Wane has also supplemented his pack by bringing in Epalahame Lauaki from Hull FC, along with two more Crusaders old boys Gil Dudson and Ben Flower.

And the capture of Anthony Gelling from Auckland Vulcans looks an obvious straight replacement for Joel Tomkins.

But Wigan have always been a club who have proudly brought players through the ranks.

Although Joel's younger brother Sam is now the star attraction at the DW Stadium, he is far from the only one to roll off a production line that has also supplied skipper O'Loughlin, Liam Farrell, Paul Prescott, Harrison Hansen and last season's big discovery Josh Charnley.

Chorley boy Charnley's 21 tries from the right wing effectively kept another home product, Darrell Goulding, scorer of 29 Super League tries in 2010, on the sidelines for much of the campaign.

But, while Tomkins Sr's switch to centre reaped short-term dividends last season, triggering the stunning Wembley try that ultimately caught Saracens' eye, it was the switch of his younger brother to full-back the previous season that had a more far-reaching effect on Wigan.

And it is in Sam Tomkins' hands that Wigan's fortunes rest, to a large extent.

An injury to their main matchwinner would be a crippling blow.

Admittedly, they have the prolific Richards available for the whole of the season after missing the first two months of last season with the Achilles injury he sustained in the 2010 Grand Final.

And Leuluai will be hungry to go out on a high as prepares to go back down under at season's end.

But, if Tomkins comes close to matching last season's personal league and cup haul of 32 tries, then Wigan, twice beaten by rivals St Helens in the play-offs when it counted most, ought to prove very hard to stop this time.