WARRINGTON Wolves will have a squad to compete with and overhaul St Helens and Wigan at the top of Super League in 2021, chief executive Karl Fitzpatrick insists.

However, he admits major improvements have to be made in attack and accepts the Blake Austin-Gareth Widdop partnership “hasn’t worked.”

The Wire finished third in the Super League table – level on points and win percentage with eventual Grand Final winners Saints, but they crashed out of the play-offs at the first hurdle against Hull FC.

Warrington Guardian:

Hull FC celebrate among the heartbroken Wire players after last month's play-off clash. Picture by SWPix.com

With centre Anthony Gelling being released from the final year of his contract this week, there is now a free space on Wolves’ overseas player quota for a potential new recruit.

The club are known to be targeting another prop, with up-and-coming English forward Rob Butler and iconic Australian centre Greg Inglis already confirmed to be joining.

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Greg Inglis is joining The Wire for 2021

Fitzpatrick also addressed the criticism aimed at head coach Steve Price from sections of the club’s fanbase.

“Steve’s an honest bloke. He’s harder on himself than myself, the board or any fans could be on him,” he said.

“He’s held his hands up and he knows the attack needs to be worked on.

“When you put it down on paper – Stefan Ratchford at full-back, Blake Austin and Gareth Widdop as half-backs, Daryl Clark at hooker – we should be causing more problems.

“He’s accountable for the team’s performances.

“Defensively, we are not a million miles off but I don’t think we’ve been fluid all season.

“There have been patches – straight after lockdown I thought we were really good.

“We hit the ground running, but we lost our way at the back end of the season.

“I think we were seventh in Super League in terms of tries scored. That’s simply not good enough – you’re not going to win things with that kind of strike rate.

“They (St Helens and Wigan) are the two benchmark teams that have to be caught if you look at what they dished up in the Grand Final, which was an extraordinary game.

“Defensively, we’re there with them. Attacking wise, we’re not.

“Our current playing roster is strong. We’ve got Greg Inglis coming in – one of the best attacking strike weapons to have ever played the game – and a big, dynamic forward in Rob Butler.

“Now Anthony Gelling has moved on, it has freed up some space to look in the recruitment market for somebody else.

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Anthony Gelling was released from the final year of his contract earlier this week. Picture by Mike Boden

“If you look at the Hull game in particular, they hurt us on the bench. That’s an area we need to get better in.

“Mike Cooper’s performances this season have been phenomenal – a worthy Dream Team selection and a worthy international recall.

“We need more of that from our middles and that’s what we’re looking for, that aggression.

“If they are big but can only play 10 minutes, they are no good to no-one.

“They’ve got to bring value so that when Hill and Cooper come off, they can plug that gap.”

On the Austin-Widdop partnership – one he himself hailed as being up there among the best in world rugby league on paper last year – Fitzpatrick continued: “We need to look at the facts – it hasn’t worked because the points haven’t been scored.

“They are the captains of your ship, they steer you round and lead your attack but it hasn’t delivered.

“They are quality, quality players. We just need to come up with a formula that works for us and allows them to combine to get us more points.”

Whether Austin and Widdop will get the chance to work on their partnership, though, remains up in the air.

Rumours linking Widdop with a return to the NRL continue to be rife, with the half-back having returned to Australia to spend the off-season with his family.

Fitzpatrick insists the England international has told them he plans to return but went on to say they will be prepared should things change.

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Gareth Widdop. Picture by Mike Boden

“We are planning for him to be here next year but of course, we are aware of what is circulating over in Australia,” he said.

“He informs us that he’s coming back, but we would be crazy to sit here and not have something planned if it materialises that he doesn’t come back.

“If he does come back, great, but we will be prepared if he doesn’t.”