In today’s edition of ‘Starting XVII’, we look at last year’s Challenge Cup winners, Warrington.
The Cup was Wire’s saving grace in 2019, with a mediocre Super League campaign eventually seeing them crash out to Castleford in the first round of the play-offs.
Steve Price enters 2020 with one big name signing in England and Great Britain international Gareth Widdop, but how will the rest of his side shape up?
Fullback – Stefan Ratchford
Ratchford has gained a reputation as one of Super League’s top fullbacks in recent years and will look to have a big impact once again in 2020. An expert at drifting in and out of the attacking line, he’ll provide plenty of creative support to halves Austin and Widdop.
Wingers – Josh Charnley and Tom Lineham
In Charnley and Lineham, Warrington have two of the country’s most natural try scorers. At just 28 and 27 respectively, they have amassed 365 career tries between them so far, with 114 of those coming for the Wolves. There’s no doubting that figure will increase significantly over the coming 12 months.
Centres – Toby King and Anthony Gelling
The cheeky young prospect and the self-proclaimed ‘man of the people’. The Wolves’ centres are, if nothing else, an interesting pair. King has been un the up for a couple of years now, with his aerial ability, in particular, proving increasingly difficult for defences to handle. Gelling, meanwhile, is a born entertainer, both on and off the field. Wire fans can expect plenty of audacious play from him, and hopefully several laughs along the way.
Halves – Blake Austin and Gareth Widdop
Now this is a halfback partnership that is guaranteed to get pulses racing. There’s no doubting the attacking talent of both Widdop and Austin and with this pair leading the charge, this is arguably Wire’s best chance of a Super League title in years.
Props – Chris Hill and Mike Cooper
Hill isn’t the most intimidating prop you’ll come across but it’s his tireless work rate that makes him such an asset. As long as he keeps running, the rest of his team will and that’s a valuable commodity to have as a captain. Cooper, on the other hand, is the big bopper of the pack. He’s been one of the most consistent performers in the past couple of years and always puts his side on the front foot with his carries.
Hooker – Daryl Clark
Clark’s the kind of hooker that can change a game in a split second. He’s got a keen eye for a gap and isn’t afraid to take the game by the scruff of the neck if the halfbacks are underperforming.
Second Rowers – Ben Currie and Jack Hughes
Hughes topped off a superb 2019 with two caps for Great Britain, albeit during a poor Tour. He’s effective running as a wide forward and has the skills to play as either a centre or halfback if required. Currie is a similar type of player and would likely have been in that same Lions side had injuries not stunted his progress in recent years.
Loose Forward – Joe Philbin
Arguably one of Super League’s most underrated players, Philbin will likely fill the void left by the retired Ben Westwood. A mobile but aggressive forward, the 25-year-old will add some significant bulk to the forward pack operating in the loose forward role.
Subs – Ben Murdoch-Masila, Jason Clark, Sitaleki Akauola and Matt Davis
There’s talk of Steve Price recruiting another forward to fill the currently vacant no.16 jersey but, for now, this is the strongest bench available. Murdoch-Masila and Akauola will add significant aggression and bulk to the forwards if needed, while Clark allows scope for Philbin to move into the front row should Hill or Cooper need a rest. The final spot will likely be fought out between Matt Davis and Danny Walker, but Davis’ ability to fill in both in the back row and at hooker means he’ll probably get the nod.