AS pre-season begins, every Warrington Wolves squad member will no doubt be desperate to impress new head coach Sam Burgess.

At his introductory press conference last week, the new boss insisted there were 17 places up for grabs in his side for Round One and of course, that will all be worked out over the coming weeks and months.

However, plenty including maybe Burgess himself will have some kind of idea what The Wire’s best 17 is.

Here, we go over four of what we feel could be the biggest dilemmas for the head coach at present…

Two from four at centre

A lack of strike and depth in the centres ranked highly among the criticisms of Warrington Wolves in 2024, with veteran duo Peter Mata’utia and Stefan Ratchford featuring there for much of the year.

Mata’utia has retired and while club captain Ratchford remains, him starting 2024 at centre seems unlikely given the concerted effort to strengthen that area.

Toby King – now an England international and a Grand Final winner as a result of his loan spell at Wigan Warriors – is back in the fold and is surely a shoo-in for one of the spots provided he reintegrates successfully.

That would leave PNG international Rodrick Tai and popular homegrown youngster Connor Wrench to fight it out for the other centre berth along with Ratchford.

Either way, spots are open to be grabbed.

Warrington Guardian: Toby King is back at Warrington after 18 months out on loanToby King is back at Warrington after 18 months out on loan (Image:

Experience or youth to partner Williams

This is the big one for many people – just who will be George Williams’ half-back partner for 2024.

With Riley Dean now out of the picture having left to take up an opportunity to play in Australia, the choice looks set to be a “stick or twist” option between youngster Leon Hayes and the more experienced Josh Drinkwater.

The popular choice among fans would be Burgess throwing his weight behind Warringtonian scrum-half Hayes, who has been labelled by director of rugby Gary Chambers as “the future of the club,” despite him having just three Super League appearances under his belt.

In the eyes of plenty of supporters and observers, however, he has done enough in that limited time to convince them he is worthy of an extended run in the side.

By contrast, Drinkwater’s displays were much-maligned in 2023 but with his contract entering its final year, the Australian may well see this as his last chance to shine at Super League level.

Warrington Guardian: Josh Drinkwater is competing with Leon Hayes to play alongside George WilliamsJosh Drinkwater is competing with Leon Hayes to play alongside George Williams (Image: Mike Boden)

Compromise somewhere in the back row

There is plenty of excitement about the arrival of Lachlan Fitzgibbon, who was among the form back-rowers in the NRL with Newcastle Knights during 2023.

Indeed, Fitzgibbon’s Knights teammate and former Super League Man of Steel Jackson Hastings predicted he would form the competition’s best edge combination with George Williams if used properly.

That would require him playing on the left edge – a spot Ben Currie has occupied almost exclusively for many years.

And then there’s Matty Nicholson – a move to loose forward was mooted when Fitzgibbon’s signing was announced, but that was a plan cooked up by the now departed Daryl Powell and since then, The Wire have added Jordy Crowther as a more specialist 13.

Burgess certainly has plenty of figuring out to do in that area, but it may well involve some compromise somewhere.

Warrington Guardian: Lachlan FitzgibbonLachlan Fitzgibbon (Image: YouTube)

What role for Ratchford?

At 35 years of age and with his contract entering its final year, it’s entirely possible this could be Stefan Ratchford’s last year at the club – but what role will Burgess find for him?

Whether he remains as captain or not, he will still be a key voice in the dressing room and it is difficult to imagine many in the competition as a whole let alone the club with a better goal-kicking record of late.

Indeed, Ratchford was Super League’s leading goal-kicker last season with 96, with a success ratio of a hair under 86 per cent.

Of course, goal-kicking alone should be no guarantee of a first-team place, but they would be sizeable boots to fill.

A “number 14” utility bench role was mooted given his impressive versatility, but the imminent arrival of Wigan hooker Sam Powell may make that more unlikely.

Warrington Guardian: Stefan Ratchford was Super League's leading goal-kicker in 2023Stefan Ratchford was Super League's leading goal-kicker in 2023 (Image: Mike Boden)