There is no better feeling than watching a player rise through the ranks and play first team rugby league for the club they’ve played for since their teenage years.
Many of the top clubs manage to hold onto these players and fend off interest from rivals and foreign interest. However, eventually players opt for a change of scene and move on, whether this is after a long career at the club that brought them up, or in the early stages of their professional career.
Here is what a Wigan Warriors side would look like if they kept hold of their academy players. Wigan’s academy is one of the best academies in the country, and has produced countless top-level players. This team includes players who were part of Wigan’s academy or reserves at the start of their career. They also now have since left Wigan and play elsewhere.
1. Sam Tomkins
There are very few academy exports more high profile than Sam Tomkins. He won seven major honours with Wigan, including three Grand Finals. The mercurial talent has also had a spell with the New Zealand Warriors sandwiched between his two stints as a Wigan player. He now continues to play at the top of his game at Catalans, and is far from past his best.
2. Tom Davies
Another Warrior turned Dragon, Davies has flourished in Perpignan. He got a lucky break in 2017 after injuries left Wigan struggling for numbers out wide, and Davies stepped in and showed that he deserved to be playing first grade. He scored 13 tries that year, and a year later won a Grand Final with Wigan at just 21 years of age. He has since moved to Catalans where his try scoring capabilities have stuck with him, as he currently sits on 18 tries in as many games.
3. Jack Hughes
Although he now plays in Warrington’s back-row, Hughes did taste success with Wigan, winning the 2013 Grand Final. Since signing for Warrington ahead of the 2016 season, he has become a fan favourite. He has played in four major finals, winning just one and suffering defeat to his boyhood club twice.
4. Iain Thornley
Thornley came up through Wigan’s academy and at just 18 years old he switched codes to join Sale Sharks. When he did return to rugby league, he would rejoin Wigan where he went on to win the double with them in 2013. Since then, he has played for four other Super League clubs, and is now plying his trade at Leigh.
5. Lewis Tierney
Tierney joined Wigan’s academy at 15, and spent eight years at the club, with much of it being on loan. His 2017 loan spell at Catalans earned him a contract at the club until 2020. He signed for Leigh in 2021 and at just 26 years of age, has plenty of years ahead of him.
6. Jake Shorrocks
Jake Shorrocks was released by Wigan in 2020, and has moved to Newcastle Thunder alongside fellow Wigan academy graduate Josh Woods. Shorrocks spent time on loan at Salford in 2018, but did not sign a permanent contract. He was unable to nail down a first team spot at Wigan, and now plays in the Championship, but at just 25 there is plenty of time for him to make his way back to the top tier.
7. George Williams
Another one of Wigan’s very best academy graduates, Williams has been fantastic since his move to Canberra. He won two Grand Finals with Wigan before his move down under, and is one of the best English talents that we have. He has expressed intent to return to England, and Wigan are expected to be the club he returns to.
8. Ryan Sutton
Another former Warrior playing at Canberra, Sutton has been a success given the fact he was just 23 when he made the move. He has held his own against the generally bigger, more athletic Aussie forwards, which is testament to the quality of coaching at Wigan’s academy.
9. Logan Tomkins
Tomkins spent the majority of his time at Wigan on loan after graduating from their academy. He played over 100 games for Salford following a move in 2015 with his most successful season at the Red Devils being 2019, where he featured in the Grand Final. He is now playing in the Championship at Widnes.
10. Lee Mossop
Another member of the 2019 Salford squad, Mossop played well over 100 games for Wigan before his departure. Mossop won two Challenge Cup finals and a Grand Final with the cherry and whites. He now captains Salford, with whom he has captained them to a further two finals
11. James Greenwood
Despite coming through the academy, Greenwood barely got a game for Wigan, however he became a regular player for Hull KR and now Salford Red Devils. Last year, he scored a try in the 2020 Challenge Cup Final.
12. Joel Tomkins
The third and final Tomkins on this list is the eldest brother Joel. He played for Wigan’s academy at U18 level in 2003, before making his first team debut in 2005. He had a spell in rugby union, but spent a total of 12 years as a Wigan player. He now plays for Catalans alongside Sam.
13. Jack Wells
At just 23 years old, Jack Wells is the youngest in this list. The back rower came through Wigan’s academy and spent four years in the club’s first team. However, he was unable to nail down some proper game time, and after a couple of loan spells, joined Salford ahead of the 2021 season.
14. Michael McIlorum
Yet another player on this list who currently plays for Catalans, McIlorum spent 12 years at Wigan. He joined the U18s academy in 2005. He won five major honours as a Warrior, playing 241 times. He moved to Catalans in 2018 where the hooker won a Challenge Cup final in his first season.
15. Joe Bretherton
The 6”5 academy export is currently in his third year with Toulouse Olympique. He played just 20 times at Wigan in and amongst some loan spells before his permanent move to Toulouse. With his side looking a strong candidate for promotion, he may well return to face his boyhood club.
16. Greg Burke
Greg Burke came up through Wigan’s academy before being handed his first team debut in 2013. He played over 40 times for his hometown club around his loan spells. He eventually moved to Widnes, but after their relegation in 2018, Burke signed for Salford and has since played in two major finals.
17. Ryan Hampshire
Hampshire won the Academy U19s grand final with Wigan in 2013. He spent much of his time at Wigan on loan after graduating from the academy, but moved to Wakefield in 2018 where he has been a regular starter and a very important player in the squad.