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Page last updated at 14:48 GMT, Thursday, 10 February 2011

Wigan season preview 2011

By Ged Scott
BBC Sport

Michael Maguire
Michael Maguire scooped silverware in his first season at the DW Stadium

It is one thing climbing to the top of the mountain. It is a whole different ball game staying there.

But almost every indication emanating from the DW Stadium over the winter months is that Wigan are actually better equipped than ever to stay Super League's top side in 2011.

Admittedly, they start the campaign without last season's record-breaking points machine Pat Richards.

The big Aussie winger, who ran in 31 Super League tries in as many games and kicked 155 goals, is still out with the torn Achilles tendon injury he cruelly suffered in last year's Grand Final triumph against St Helens at Old Trafford.

With added sense of irony, it was just five days after picking up last season's Man of Steel award when Richards was injured making a tackle and forced to limp off just before half-time, with the game against St Helens already all but won.

That booked him a date with the surgeon. And he is not due back in action until April.

And, to add to coach Michael Maguire's pre-season injury list, for the first month at least, Wigan will be without one of their new signings, half-back Brett Finch, who is still recovering from a neck injury.

But they two have other exciting Antipodean signings to bed in, Aussie second row forward Ryan Hoffman and New Zealand prop Jeff Lima.

And, while they will miss Richards' strength in the tackle as much as his try-scoring ability, they have a reliable stand-in to land the goals in Paul Deacon - twice Super League's top kicker in his title-winning days with Bradford.

Even more importantly, they have Amos Roberts back on the wing after the dreadful cruciate knee injury he suffered last Easter Monday against Wakefield.

Roberts was on fire early in the season as Wigan made such a storming start, running in 10 tries in seven league games. And, to use the acknowledged sporting cliche, it will be like having a new player back in their ranks to have the Aussie flier fit again.

With the outstanding Sam Tomkins having now settled into his new role at full-back and Darrell Goulding having run in 29 Super League tries of his own from the other wing in 2010, even Richards may still have his work cut out to win back his shirt when he finally reports fit for action again.

Joel, Sam and Logan Tomkins
Joel, Sam and Logan Tomkins line up before Wigan's friendly at Warrington

What is more, with six promising youngsters, including a third Tomkins brother, Logan, having come through to bolster the squad from the academy, Wigan now look to finally be the force in the game again.

"It's a big thing, producing so much home-grown talent," said experienced prop Stuart Fielden.

"That's a positive for the future, not just for Wigan, but for England too," added the Yorkshireman, now a Grand Final winner with two different clubs following all his successes under Brian Noble at Bradford.

And he admits that it is no surprise that the two eldest Tomkins brothers, Joel, 23, and Sam, 21, last week signed new five-year contracts, as did another Wigan lad, 21-year-old loose forward Liam Farrell and young Preston-born centre Josh Charnley, 19.

Another local man Goulding, 22, also penned a three-year deal, as did Manchester-bred second rower Harrison Hansen, 25.

"The club was keen to tie them down," said Fielden.

"People are always looking at your best players, although I don't think the Tomkins brothers will ever leave Wigan."

Injuries might still test this well-balanced Wigan squad, especially if they come early on in the season when they are busy on their travels.

The concept of starting the season with Magic Weekend, coupled with the complication of having to slip in the World Club Challenge against St George Illawarra on 27 February, already meant a congested start to the new campaign.

But having been done no favours by the RFL computer, which picked them to play at home on the same weekend as the World Club Challenge game, they must now play their first three Super League games on the road.

Saturday night's Cardiff opener against St Helens is followed by away dates at Bradford and Salford before they get to play a home league game for the first time against Hull on 13 March - a month into the season.

And by then, the rugby league world should have a good idea whether Maguire's men will still be the same force as last season.

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see also
Super League form guide 2011
09 Feb 11 |  My Club
Tomkins brothers sign Wigan deals
04 Feb 11 |  Wigan
Wigan name O'Loughlin as captain
28 Jan 11 |  Wigan
New Wigan signing facing surgery
13 Jan 11 |  Wigan
Richards targets March comeback
03 Nov 10 |  Wigan
Richards ruled out for six months
03 Oct 10 |  Wigan
Richards wins Man of Steel award
27 Sep 10 |  Rugby League
Roberts out with cruciate damage
07 Apr 10 |  Wigan
Warriors sign up Melbourne trio
19 Jul 10 |  Wigan
Super League Show
17 Feb 08 |  Rugby League

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