Joe Philbin admits there has been a lot of “soul searching” at Warrington Wolves since the end of the season, but he believes an extended pre-season will bring significant benefits for the club in 2021.
Hopes that the star-studded Wolves could challenge for both major titles post-lockdown disappeared with disappointing knock-out exits to Salford and Hull FC, amid questions about the side’s attack.
Philbin concedes that Warrington’s 2020 campaign was simply not good enough but he believes they will benefit more than any other side from a genuine close season.
The Great Britain international explained: “It’s been strange, it’s been such a long year that you forget everything that’s gone on.
“I came back from the GB tour and started training on January 3, and our first game was on the 29th.
“A few of us had a three-week pre-season then went into a crazy year.
“We started off a lot slower than we wanted to and I think we won two of our first five games.
“But when lockdown came we handled ourselves immensely, and a lot of people came back fitter than when we’d left.
“After that we went on a really good run, but then we lost narrowly in the Challenge Cup semi-final and we capitulated after that.
“We need to get better at that. When you lose a game you can’t let it drag on for longer than it should.
“I really felt so confident in the way we were playing after lockdown; we were really competing hard and doing all the little things well.
“I believe we’ve got such a talented group but ultimately you’re judged on how your season finishes, and to be knocked out of the semi-finals of the cup and the early rounds of the play-offs means it’s not a good season.
“It’s very frustrating and there’s been a lot of soul searching done by everyone at the club, but we can’t dwell on it now and have to use it to fuel our ambition for 2021.
“I think there was seven of us last year that only had a three-week pre-season – this time we will have ten weeks with a full squad and we’ve never had that before.
“We’ll be used to playing with each other and the style of play that’s been set out by round one.”
The other reason for Philbin to be optimistic about next year is the arrival of superstar Greg Inglis at the club.
Philbin said: “I’m really excited to play with him.
“I’m lucky enough to have played with quite a lot of big-name players here, because Warrington have always signed unbelievable names.
“I wasn’t there when Andrew Johns came, but this signing is up there and maybe better than that.”
Off the field Philbin has this year been building a business that went from concept to football’s Champions League within a matter of months.
The 26-year-old believed he could produce specialised grip socks for sports stars at a much more affordable price than the current market leaders.
Now, the Gripz range, produced by Philbin and his business partner Jack Hodgkiss, is being worn by a host of Super League players, and footballers, including Liverpool youngster Neco Williams, who donned them in a Champions League match.
They have used their success to sponsor local junior clubs, including Culcheth Eagles, as well as donating to mental health charity Mind.
Philbin added: “I personally was wearing different brands of these socks and paying £30-odd a pair, which I thought was very expensive.
“I always thought I could make them better and more affordable for people.
“Jack runs his own construction business, so he had the business nous, and when I spoke to him about it he came on board.
“We’ve had a lot of messages from people saying that our product is better than the other brands charging £30-odd a pair, and we’ve been very busy and proactive with it – we’re always mithering some celebrity or other to endorse us.
“I’d always had the idea that I wanted to start something, but had put all my eggs in the rugby basket.
“In lockdown you had a lot of time to think about what you wanted to do and it made me realise things can be taken away from you pretty quickly.
“We’re working our way in there now to try and get more Premier League players and we’ve started to produce hoodies and neck warmers as well.
“It’s been good to focus on something outside of rugby and I think it’s helped my game as well – when Rugby League is all you’ve got it can be a bad thing and this has taken some of the weight off my shoulders.”
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