Wigan Warriors head coach Shaun Wane has confessed his frustration at not having any of his international players available for full training sessions.
The Warriors had six players involved in England’s autumn series against New Zealand, allowing them less than three months to recover before the start of this year’s Super League.
Speaking earlier this week and with only one pre-season game left before the start of the 2016 campaign, Wigan-born Wane explained how having more players picked for their nation can be a double-edged sword heading into the new season.
“Players being picked for international duty has always backfired on me ever since I started this job,” he said.
“Every other team will have their players, but because we had so many picked for England it will have a knock-on effect to the start of our season.
“We started poorly last year, we have started poorly every year and it is a known fact that when you have so many players involved internationally, your start to the season is affected.
“I am passionate about my country and internationals, but first and foremost I am Wigan Warriors head coach so that has to be my priority.”
Wigan’s final pre-season match is against Salford Red Devils this Sunday and Wane admitted the team’s preparation is hindered by the absence of so many important figures.
“It is unfortunate that we are never going to see our starting 13 in any pre-season games,” he said.
“This doesn’t concern me going into the first game against Catalans because I still expect to win that game, but it does annoy me.
“It’s a major disadvantage – no other clubs will have to do what we have to do which is unfortunate, but there is not much we can do about it.”
Last season brought a new format to the Super League with the introduction of a Super 8s and Middle 8s that enabled promotion and relegation to be restored to the competition.
Wigan finished in second position at the end of the domestic season, but were narrowly beaten by treble-winners Leeds Rhinos in the Grand Final.
The Wigan boss believes the new structure worked well, but admitted there were a few games towards the end that had little riding on the outcome.
“I thought the new format we saw in last season was good and exciting,” he said.
“I did think that when the league split into the top and middle eight there were a couple of dead rubber games.”
The new format follows a string of alterations made by the RFL in recent years, but Wane insisted that the recipe for the game’s success is consistency and perseverance in its structure.
“We can’t keep changing the structure of the competition every year, even if there are a few problems with it – I would rather stick to something for a few years.
“If there are problems we need to correct them and improve them, not make radical changes.”
Despite winning the double in 2013, Wigan have failed to lift a trophy in two years, but Wane insisted the only pressure he feels under is from himself.
“I put pressure on myself because I am in this job to win things,” he said.
“I don’t feel any pressure off anybody else, but I have constantly mentioned it to my players and staff during this pre-season.
“I know what my team is capable of – if I thought they weren’t capable of winning things it wouldn’t bother me.
“But when I know what we’re capable of and we don’t win anything, that’s when I get annoyed.”
Looking ahead to this season, the Warriors boss emphasised the importance of player versatility and believes his squad are fully equipped to tackle the task in hand, despite the clever recruitment of other clubs.
“We have got good coverage across the squad so I am very happy with that,” Wane said.
“I am very keen on not pigeon-holing players in one position – I want a loose forward who can play in the halves and centres who can slot into the back row.
“A lot of teams including Hull, St Helens and Catalans have bought well,” he said.
“I think more teams will be more consistent this season which will make for a tighter and more exciting competition – the top four won’t be as clear as it was in 2015.
“The challenge for every team including ourselves is making a good start to the season to give themselves the best chance.”
Image courtesy of Super League TV via YouTube, with thanks.