Warrior Mindset: How Wigan are looking to build a new rugby league dynasty

 | December 19 | 

5 mins read

Wigan Warriors v Catalans Dragons

They’re the defending champions, the reigning League Leaders’ Shield holders and came within a drop-goal of reaching a Betfred Challenge Cup final which might have given them a first domestic treble since 1995.

And the bad news for the rest of the Betfred Super League is that the Wigan Warriors seem to be an infinitely stronger proposition going into 2024. Following on from St Helens’ four-year reign as champions, Matt Peet’s side look ready to build a dynasty of their own.

Wigan Warriors odds

  • To win the Grand Final - 2/1
  • To win the Treble (Grand Final, League Leaders' Shield and Challenge Cup) - 16/1

All the signs are there. It’s only two months since they proved themselves as the big-game kings by outlasting Catalans Dragons 10-2 in an arm-wrestle of a Grand Final at Old Trafford. That was a 10th straight win for the Warriors since an 11-10 loss to Hull Kingston Rovers in golden-point extra-time of their Challenge Cup semi-final. The lessons of that defeat well and truly learned, Wigan were unstoppable for the final three months of the 2023 campaign.

The few issues that Peet had had to contend with through the early part of the season seemed to have been resolved, with Bevan French finally finding a permanent home in the halves and Jai Field playing at full-back. Tyler Dupree’s mid-season arrival from Salford Red Devils addressed a lack of depth in the front row. Cade Cust, meanwhile, had been relieved of his temporary task as an emergency hooker, with Sam Powell and Brad O’Neill splitting the responsibilities.

Those measures have been reinforced over the off-season as Peet prepares his side to ram home their superiority. They now have more props than you can shake a stick at having added Tiaki Chan from Catalans, Wakefield Trinity’s Sam Eseh and Canterbury Bulldogs’ former St Helens product Luke Thompson. They’ve also brought in ex-Huddersfield Giant and Leeds Rhino Kruise Leeming to replace long-serving Powell as their star name at hooker.

Leeds’ giant back-rower Sam Walters is another exciting capture, with a 22-year-old of true promise arriving from a fellow Super League powerhouse being a real coup. He will add to a list containing Liam Farrell, Willie Isa and Junior Nsemba as second-row options.

Wigan Warriors to win the Grand Final at 2/1

Throw in Adam Keighran’s two-year deal which sees him arrive with Chan from Catalans, and the Warriors have not just replaced Toby King, who has returned to parent club Warrington Wolves after a season-long loan, but also added a more reliable goalkicker to their ranks.

Harry Smith might have benefited from a kicking clinic prior to the Super League play-offs, but his regular season was littered by poor efforts at goal. He missed 52 of 139 two-point attempts for a 62.5% return. Keighran’s 68 from 88 (77.3%) made him one of the most prolific kickers in the top flight last term, and he ought to start the 2024 campaign as Wigan’s first choice with the boot.

Smith’s ability in general play remains unquestioned, though. The new four-year deal he was handed in early December says much about Peet’s desire to build the club’s future around him. At 23, he could become the centrepiece of a great era in the Warriors’ history if all goes to plan, with his field kicking having been much of the reason for Wigan’s successes in 2023.

Wigan Warriors to win the treble at 16/1

At the heart of their renaissance, though, has been the head coach. Peet’s ability to take what Adrian Lam had done with the club and improve upon it in his first gig at senior level has rightly earned him huge plaudits. A 2022 Challenge Cup win was just the start.

In ’23 the Warriors were not without their flaws, but once Peet struck upon French as his preferred half-back partner for Smith there seemed to be a steely determination in the eyes of the Wigan players which matched that of their coach.

And he’s already getting them prepared to deal with the one-percenters which will be key in the huge games to come in 2024.

In a club offering on YouTube titled ‘Being A Warrior: A New Era’, Peet responds to a successful training drill by explaining just what effect it could have in the big moments ahead of his side.

“Think about how relevant that drill is, playing on a Good Friday or a semi-final, when you can’t breathe or you can’t get your words out,” he can be heard telling his squad as they regain their breath.

“You’ve got to keep making efforts in them rows. Choose to invest. Choose to make effort when no one’s watching you. Keep pushing yourself to that boundary, that edge of your conditioning, going a bit further. That’s how you get fitter, mentally and physically tougher.”

The Betfred Super League kings are not just harnessing their champion mentality but being asked to build upon it. They have arguably improved their options throughout the pack and added a key piece in the three-quarters. In a team which had the Man of Steel in French, probably the league’s leading general in Smith and most explosive full-back in Field, that’s some prospect.

Oh, and they just so happen to have two of the best finishers in the game, with Abbas Miski and Liam Marshall’s combined 47 tries – 27 and 20 respectively – having given Wigan the most prolific wing pairing in the country for a second successive season.

St Helens’ period of dominance might be a long-forgotten relic if Wigan live up to their scary potential.

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