There are less than three weeks to go until Warrington lock horns with local rivals the Widnes Vikings at the Select Security Stadium.
The game is an opportunity for both sides to begin getting their squads back to full fitness and gives new signings the opportunity to play in the primrose and blue kit for perhaps the first time.
Squads are beginning to take shape before the new season kicks off on Saturday February 11, so here at the 18th man, we’re going to look at how the Wolves might line up for their opening game at the Stade Gilbert Brutus.
Full Back- Jack Johnson
Tony Smith told fans in a recent interview that Stefan Ratchford’s knee injury picked up on four nations duty would keep him out until at least Round four, so with that in mind, the game in the South of France might provide a chance for young Jack Johnson to show his worth at full-back. He had arguably one of his best games in a Wolves jersey last year when won in the South of France, so Tony Smith will be hoping for another mesmirising performance from the youngster.
Wing- Tom Lineham
Lineham, an off-season signing from Hull FC before the start of our last campaign, had a great start to life at the Wolves, scoring six tries in his first seven games. However, he was left out in the wilderness for a large chunk of the campaign, with players like Kevin Penny and Rhys Evans getting the nod ahead of him. He was given the chance to re-enter the first team towards the end of the Super 8’s and did just that, providing a spectacular display against Hull FC, a game which won the Wolves the League Leaders Shield. His passion for the game is undoubtable, and like Atkins, he runs with the strength and power of a forward. Warrington will be hoping he can be a consistent performer in their backline next year.
Centre- Rhys Evans
Like Russell, some fans question whether Rhys Evans’s best position is in the centre or out on the wing. Either way, the hometown boy gives 100% in every game he plays in and has slowly established himself as another key cog in the Wolves backline. If the young man is able to stay injury-free, he could have another stellar season at Warrington, and further cement his position in the starting 13, and rightfully so.
Centre- Ryan Atkins
Atkins had one of his best seasons in a Wolves shirt last year, consistently putting in hard working performances, particularly towards the end of last year. When his side is under pressure, he can gain quick yards with his strong carries, taking some of the strain off the forwards at times. With this in mind, he could be a key component to success next season, so long as he can keep up the form he showed last season.
Wing- Matty Russell
Some fans are still yet to be convinced that Russell’s best position in the side is on the wing, having joined as a full back from the Gold Coast Titans. However, his performances for Scotland at the Four Nations, including a spectacular finish against England, showed that he is a more than capable winger with an instinct for finding the try line. Smith has admitted that, out of all Wolves players at the Four Nations, the Scots showing was the most pleasing, so this might indicate that he is set for an important role in the Wolves pursuit of silverware next season.
Stand-Off- Kevin Brown
This may be quite a controversial pick, but the 18th man understands that Warrington are set to announce the signing of half back Brown on a three-year deal from fierce rivals Widnes Vikings. Although it may take a while for him to win around all the fans, he has the flare to make tries out of nothing and, in order to get a result in Perpignan, it is these flare players who will have to step up to the plate. What better way to introduce yourself to the fans than by marking your debut with a win?
Scrum Half- Kurt Gidley
Games in the South of France normally require players with good game management. In Kurt Gidley, the Wire have this in abundance. He was one of the most consistent performers for the Wolves back line last year, and his combination with Brown (when he is announced) might be something which will work wonders for the team going forward, and the South of France is the perfect place to trial the partnership.
Prop- Ashton Sims
Wolves fans were understandably excited when their club announced the signing of Fijian international Sims from the North Queensland Warriors in 2015. Half a century of appearances and five tries later, the big prop has left his mark, proving to be a true leader in the Wolves pack. Although he isn’t the captain of the side, his presence on the pitch appears to inspire others around him, and Ashton will be hoping that he can help his side win silverware as he approaches the latter stages of his career.
Hooker- Daryl Clark
Clark, another signing in 2015, came to the club shortly after winning the Steve Prescott Man of Steel award at the Castleford Tigers, so fans were optimistic that the £185,000 fee paid would be well worth it. The hooker has scored and assisted many tries in his time at the club, and seems to get better and better with every season that passes. In the South of France, the Wolves pack will be hoping that his dashes from dummy half can eat up metres for his side and take the strain off some of the big men down the middle.
Prop- Chris Hill
In Hills’ first season as club captain, the Wire reached both the Challenge Cup and Grand Final, as well as claiming the League Leaders Shield; not a bad first season as leader? At just 29, Chris has many years left at the Wolves and, after recently committing his future to his beloved side, he will be hoping to be an ever-present in the 13 and lead by example once again this year.
Second Row- Jack Hughes
Hughes, at the age of 24, has got plenty of experience both at Super League and Championship level, having previously played for Wigan, Huddersfield and Barrow Raiders amongst others. He appears to have found a home now at the Wolves, and his offloading ability and mean defence has made him a key player for the Wolves. His best years are only ahead of him and he is not the complete package just yet, but Tony Smith will surely reap the rewards from giving him a full season at second row.
Second Row- Ben Westwood
‘Super Ben’ is entering his 14th season at the Wolves and has been given handed the number 34 shirt, the same number that he was given when he first joined the club back in 2002. 354 appearances later for the Wire, he shows no signs of stopping, his tough tackling and bustling runs understandable making him a fans favourite. Warrington will need the likes of Westwood firing on all cylinders to come away with the win.
Loose Forward- Joe Westerman
Like Lineham, Westerman signed from Hull FC in 2015 for a fee of around £150,000. The hype surrounding him was big and he appears to have made a solid start to life at the Wolves. His try ration is 1:3.3 games, which is mightily impressive for a forward. Also, he is a man who can link up play between forwards and backs with ease. Creativity might be the key at the Stade Gilbert Brutus, so having a forward like Westerman in the 13 will only benefit the visiting side.
Interchange 1- Mike Cooper
After leaving the Wolves in 2013, Coops has come back after three years at St George Illiwarra Dragons a much better player. His performance for England at the Four Nations highlighted his running power and physicality, and he would surely be one of the first forwards on the team sheet.
Interchange 2- Dom Crosby
Crosby comes to the Wire after making 86 appearances in the Red and White of rivals Wigan. He may come as a bit of an unknown entity to some supporters, but he is just 25, and is a forward with tons of potential, which is what Tony Smith will be after this season. A tough tackler and fierce runner with ball in hand, he will try and establish himself very quickly, and I’m sure the fans will quickly warm to him.
Interchange 3- Brad Dwyer
Midway through the 2015 season, it looked like Dwyer’s hopes of a Wolves career were over after he was shipped out on loan to London Broncos. Injuries to other hookers in the squad gave him a chance to reclaim his place, and he has certainly made the most of it. Now, he is fighting for the starting hookers birth with Clark, and his trademark scoots and dives close to the opposition line have made him one of the most sought-after young hookers in the league.
Interchange 4- Andre Savelio
Savelio, still in the early days of his playing career, has recently joined from St Helens. Tony Smith described him as having the “X factor”, so it might take a little bit of magic from the 21-year old to unlock the Dragons defensive line and provide fresh impetus from the bench when the opposing defence begins to tire.