WHILE Warrington Wolves’ 2023 left a lot to be desired, Paul Vaughan could certainly hold his head high following a year of stellar form.

That was, however, until his campaign was brought to a premature, frustrating and many would say unjustified end.

It is clear the controversial four-match ban that brought his year to an early close and has eaten into his preparations for 2024 still rankles with the Australian, whose dominant front-row performances earned saw him named as The Wire’s only representative in the Super League Dream Team.

While it has meant he will be thrown straight into the thick of the action when the new campaign gets underway, the big prop is looking on the bright side.

Warrington Guardian: Paul Vaughan's excellent form in 2023 saw him named in the Super League Dream TeamPaul Vaughan's excellent form in 2023 saw him named in the Super League Dream Team (Image: Mike Boden)

“It was pretty disappointing to be fair,” he said of the ban that ruled him out of his side’s play-off clash with St Helens.

“I’d had a real good crack throughout the year and played for the majority of the season, but then the finals is the time you really want to play footy.

“For me, I was pretty gutted. I would have loved to have played in that game but I can’t do too much about it now.

“It’s made me want to come back and replicate the season I had or get even better.

“I always try and hold myself to a high standard so I’ll try and go as best I can.

“I’d probably have rather had a bit of a run around before going into the season.

“Ideally, I would have been able to play against Leigh but I’m looking at it the other way.

“This way, I’ll come in fresh and I can just focus on being in the best shape for Round One.

“I feel pretty fit at the moment. I’m down in weight and I feel pretty mobile, so I can roll in there ready to go.”

At times last year, Vaughan’s efforts were holding the Wire pack together to the point where lengthy stints and big minutes were a frequent occurrence.

That was often out of necessity as he seemed to be the only member of the middle unit who was not troubled by either injury or suspension until the innocent but ill-advised tug on Sione Mata’utia’s shirt that cost him the end of his season.

His impact never diminished despite his increased time on the field and as long as that continues to be the case, the 33-year-old is happy to continue.

“It's a bit of a “catch 22” because I like being out there and contributing as much as I can,” he said.

“I don’t mind playing long minutes, but at times there was no other option last year as we lost a couple of players.

“We ended up being quite skinny through the middle so that was the role I had to take up. I didn’t mind it even if I was getting a bit fatigued in there at times.

“We’ve got the players to be able to rotate this year and as a squad, we’ve got to share the workload evenly.

“As long as my contribution is positive and I’m not out there making errors and missing tackles, I’ll play for as long as I can.”

Warrington Guardian: Lengthy stints were common for Vaughan during 2023Lengthy stints were common for Vaughan during 2023 (Image: Mike Boden)

The arrival of a familiar face from back home should help Vaughan on the front, with New Zealander Zane Musgrove the headline addition to Wire’s front-row stocks to help cover departures for the likes of Tom Mikaele and Sam Kasiano.

And having played against him on several occasions back in the NRL, Vaughan knows all about what the 27-year-old can bring while he also backed some of the club’s younger middles to provide much-needed depth.

“I’m a massive fan of Zane – he’s exactly what we need,” he said.

“He’s a big body, he’s powerful and he’s in great shape. I’ve played against him a few times and he’s always been a handful, so better to be on his side rather than against him.

“He’s a big lad with a big motor, but he’s skilful as well so I’m really looking forward to playing with him. Hopefully, we can build a really good partnership.

“I’ve got a really big rap on Max Wood. He’s come from Wigan as a young kid on a train-and-trial but we’ve signed him up now and I think he’s got a great future.

“He’s quite young but he’s willing to learn. He’s got great feet as well so I think he’s going to be a really handy player.

“It’s the same for Luke Thomas – in the middle, they are probably our two best young lads.”

Warrington Guardian: Zane Musgrove has joined the Wire pack for 2024Zane Musgrove has joined the Wire pack for 2024 (Image: Joe Richardson)

Said middle unit will of course form a huge part of any success The Wire are to have in rookie head coach Sam Burgess’ first season in charge.

He faces a sizeable task when it comes to closing the gap to the likes of neighbours Wigan Warriors and St Helens and with it, ensuring Warrington are challenging for honours once again.

So with a group of players that is largely unchanged barring a few additions, the question on many fans’ lips will be “how will things be different this time?”

“The attitude towards defence is a big change,” Vaughan explains.

“There were times last year where the game got a little bit tough and we shied away from those moments on occasion.

“In those periods, we should have fronted up more and tried to attack them, which is what we’ve been working on this year. We want to be a tough, gritty team and we’re working towards that.

“Obviously, it’s going to be a working progress and it’s a long season, so we’ve got a lot of games to get that right.

“Resilience and that bit of grit when the opposition puts pressure on us is what we’ve been working on.

“I’m really enjoying it – Sammy was a player I always looked up to and I played against him a fair few times.

“Back home, he was a fearsome competitor so to be coached by him is something pretty special for me personally.

“I like to try and gain as much knowledge as I can – I’m getting older now but I’m always asking Sammy how to improve my game.

“He’s got a wealth of knowledge and he’ll be a really good coach.”

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