Wigan kick off the new Super League season buoyed by young talent

The Guardian-11 months before

Burgess and Hastings are elite players in their prime, something head coach Adrian Lam missed last season, when Wigan still recovered from an horrific winter to reach the penultimate hurdle. Lam says their recruitment addresses the issue of having “a top-end age group, a bottom end and not much in the middle”.

Tony Clubb (32), Willie Isa (31) and Ben Flower (32) may not perform at such a lofty level much longer and vintage veterans, Thomas Leuluai (34) and Sean O’Loughlin (37), will almost certainly not be in the side beyond this year. They are a tribute to Wigan’s strengt... and conditioning staff though; Isa was ever-present last season and Leuluai played all but two games.

Wigan fielded six teenagers in the Super League last season, including Morgan Smithies who emerged to become an established part of their pack. But there is a group of players – mostly homegrown – who are coming into their peaks. Oliver Gildart and Liam Marshall are 23; Bevan French and Jake Shorrocks are 24; Joe Burgess and Romain Navarette are 25; Joe Greenwood, Chris Hankinson and the fit-again Dom Manfredi are 26; Sam Powell is 27. So this squad could be together for the next four or five years.

Super League More teenage talents are on their way. There is anticipation over the second coming of Hanley: full-back Umyla Hanley (son of Ellery), who scored two startling tries in a 70-6 victory over London Skolars earlier this month and impressed again in a 12-6 defeat to Leigh last week. Shorter and slighter than his father was in his prime, Hanley looks secure under the high ball, covers the ground quickly and relishes the chance to make mugs of would-be tacklers.

Umyla Hanley Ellery When he caught a clearing Skolars kick on his own 40, raced up the left wing, dummied and stepped defenders, before touching down untouched, at least one spectator predicted: “You’ll be saying ‘I saw him do that against Skolars when he was a kid’”. Older Cherry and Whites were forgiven for going all misty-eyed.

Kai Pearce-Paul in action for Wigan against London Skolars. Facebook Twitter Pinterest Kai Pearce-Paul, whose father Junior Paul played a few games for the Broncos in the 1990s, does not turn 19 for another fortnight, but he is already 6ft 5in and a prospect Wigan considered worthy of a four-year contract when luring him north from the Broncos this winter. Subtly coached from the sideline by Lam against Skolars, the second-rower can play on the edge or down the middle. He is built like a basketball player – all gangly arms and extremely long legs. He hits the line fast, drives his knees churning out metres after contact and, once he has sucked in tacklers like leeches, he looks to offload.

“My strength is my off-load,” said Pearce-Paul, who, like club captain Liam Farrell, is doing a sports science degree at the University of Central Lancashire. “I love it. That’s my game. I love to dance around a bit – a bit of finesse – that’s the way I play. I use my length. I’m a long person! I’ve got long limbs and that’s where the offloads come in, and the leg drive.”

Having moved up from Orpington in November, Pearce-Paul was soon training with Wigan first team and has not looked back. “It’s been exciting,” said the former Croydon Hurricanes junior. “The quality in training is a huge step up. Being around those players I can only get better. I’m learning from the best. The intensity is a lot higher and it’s a lot more specific. There have been times at Wigan when I’ve been thinking ‘wow, this is different!’ but I just push through. And you know you are capable of it because it’s been specifically made for you. The strength and conditioning coaches are working out our percentages. It’s a lot more individual. That gives you that mental push that they are looking for. It’s rewarding.”

Pearce-Paul made his Wigan debut in his home city at the Capital Challenge match, playing against his older brother, Kameron, for the first time. Kameron, a former Coventry Bear, is now at Skolars; their younger brother, Kaden, is with Saracens. “I do miss home and my family,” said Kai. “But I’m in my own house with Bevan [French] and the boys are great. They’ve been so welcoming. They are my new family. It’s been an honour to pull on the Wigan shirt and now my target is to get my debut this season. That’s what I really want to work towards this year.”

Kameron Kaden Jamaica fancy their chances of overcoming Ireland and Greece in the fight for a quarter-final place at the World Cup in 2021 and, if all goes to plan, they will prepare by playing England, Ireland and Wales this year, as well as competing in the Americas Cup.

After England host in 2021, the next World Cup will return to being staged in multiple countries. Of the previous nine events, only the 2008 tournament in Australia has had a single host nation. Expect the World Cup in 2025 to have groups based in three or four countries around the Pacific Rim.

When I was doing teaching practice in Mansfield Woodhouse, I never would have thought that the village could be hosting a Challenge Cup tie a quarter of a century later – let alone one I could watch on my mobile phone. But Sherwood Wolf Hunt welcomed West Bowling to a muddy Debdale Park Sports Club on Sunday and the Our League cameras were there to capture the action.

Sherwood Wolf Hunt West Bowling The visitors from Bradford won 38-6 to join the League One clubs in the third round draw, which will be held on Monday night at Rochdale Hornets, who beat GB Police on Saturday with a drop goal, the Army doing the same to Skirlaugh in extra-time.

Among the try-scorers in London Broncos’ 40-4 win at London Skolars on Saturday was left centre Guy Armitage. Last year, the towering, flame-haired Armitage made a couple of appearances in Super League and on loan with Skolars and Doncaster. He has played for seven union clubs (including London Scottish, Welsh and Irish all in 2011!) but at 28 years old has only played 101 senior games.

The Devonian, whose older brothers Steffon and Delon both played union for England, will at least get weekly games with the new Broncos reserves, most of whom have stepped up from last year’s competitive Under-19s. Successful trialists Jay White, a slight but lively half-back from West Warriors, and former Bath University centre Lawrence Haywood, both impressed on Saturday and hope to earn full-time contracts.

Toronto Wolfpack make their Super League debut on Sunday when they take their “home” game against Castleford to Headingley due to the unavailability of Lamport Stadium. However, a deal to play their game against St Helens as part of a double-header alongside London Skolars v North Wales at Saracens on Sunday 29 February has collapsed due to a change in management at the disgraced Premiership club. Newcastle Thunder have emerged as potential hosts, but a London venue is essential given flights and hotel rooms have been booked. A triple-header at Ealing Trailfinders, with the Broncos’ game against Featherstone being brought forward a few hours, remains the most likely outcome.

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