It came as no real surprise when Wigan announced on Wednesday that Josh Charnley and Dan Sarginson would leave at the end of the year.
The two had been rumoured with moves away from the Warriors for some time, so the news was somewhat inevitable. While it is disappointing to lose two more talents to the NRL and rugby union (that’s a conversation for another day), it is a bitter blow for Shaun Wane and his plans to assemble a team to dominate domestic Rugby League.
Wigan’s current squad has frightening potential. With an average age of around 24, they are already one of the best teams in the league. The likes of John Bateman, Dom Manfredi and George Williams have all amassed plenty of experience yet are all aged 22 or under. At 25, Liam Farrell is an established England international, while Dom Crosby is the exact same age. Throw the likes of Oliver Gildart and Sam Powell into the mix too and Wane has already put together a spine to bring him success for years to come.
The only real planning Wane had to do in terms of recruitment was to find a replacement for Sean O’Loughlin, who at 33 must be nearing the end of his career a few years down the line. Some even suggested he had already found a successor for the Wigan and England captain in Bateman.
But now he has a new equation to solve in replacing the outgoing duo, who at 24 and 22 years of age were integral parts of Wigan’s future.
Wigan are blessed with a fantastic youth structure; Gildart, Manfredi and Lewis Tierney the latest to move up the ranks and into the first-team. Over the years, more will take a similar path. In that sense, the Warriors can expect to develop their own replacements.
But finding two players to come in of a similar standard in the medium to short term is going to be almost impossible. In Charnley, the Warriors have a winger that has rediscovered the form that saw him regarded as one of the world’s best wingers in 2013. He had a very shaky year last season, but he’s been terrific in 2016.
As for Sarginson, the outside back has shown signs of reaching Charnley’s level and at the age of 22 he promises to be a fine player in the future, he’s another that will be hard to replace.
While Gildart will be given his chance as first-choice, it leaves Wane needing one player for his backline and someone to take the role of Gildart. With the club using the marquee player rule to bring back Sam Tomkins and the financial boundaries between Super League, the NRL and rugby union bigger than ever before, the chances of Wigan getting a renowned first-class performer is unlikely, making it a very difficult proposition for Wane at this moment in time.
The fear for Wigan fans is that their entire team could be disassembled if they are also tempted away from the DW Stadium. Thankfully, most of them are already tied down to long-term deals, but in the modern era that can mean very little.
It’s a great shame for Wane, whose rebuilding process has to somewhat start again after years of shaping his side for the future.
Of course, Wigan’s current crop still has the potential to be one of the finest teams of the Super League era, but their path to immortality has hit a bump in the road following the departures of the young duo.