IF you presented a list of Warrington Wolves’ off-contract players to a group of supporters and asked them who they wished to retain, there would be one name at the top of almost every list.

However, it looks like those clamouring for Mike Cooper to be given an extension to his deal are to be disappointed.

And if the impending departure of a homegrown player who continues to churn out top performances despite being in the autumn of his career doesn’t sting enough, his expected destination will really drive the dagger home.

The prospect of Cooper donning the cherry and white of Wigan Warriors is one nobody ever thought we would see, but that is set to become reality in 2023.

Warrington Guardian:

Mike Cooper in action against Wigan Warriors - the team he appears set to join next year. Picture by Mike Boden

While it is a move that will cause significant upset among the fan base, was it to be expected?

In the most basic sense, quite possibly – a new head coach in Daryl Powell presented with a lengthy off-contract list at the end of his first season means there was always a chance of a high player turnover.

He’s had half a season to figure out who fits into his plans and who doesn’t and those decisions are now starting to filter through.

There have been rumours floating around Warrington that Powell and Cooper have not exactly seen eye-to-eye this year and if there is truth to that, there is no doubt this will have played a part – but are there other factors at play?

Did Cooper ask for a longer deal than the club were prepared to offer? Have Wigan offered him a better package? Or is it purely down to Cooper wanting a new challenge?

The reasons may or may not enter the public domain in time, but if it emerges that the club have taken to decision to let him move on, it surely cannot be for performance-related reasons.

Despite being the elder statesman of the Wire pack at 33, he remains a totemic presence in the front row.

As the below table shows, he is making more metres on average per game and is carrying the ball for more gain than any of the club’s other recognised props this year.

Warrington Guardian:

He is also averaging comfortably more metres per game than Gil Dudson – the man who has been signed seemingly to replace him as Wire’s starting front-rower for next season (89.6 versus 71.3).

Add all of this to the fact Cooper is held up as a hometown hero among the fan base and an example to aspiring young rugby players who flood the town’s pitches on a daily basis, allowing him to leave seems like a big gamble on the face of it.

It may yet pay off – Wire’s remodelled pack may fire and the struggles so far this year will be but a distant memory – but it is a move laced with risk.

The sight of Cooper lifting trophies in Wigan colours and banging the drum for victory songs in the Halliwell Jones Stadium’s away dressing room would be too much for many to bear.