NextGen: The former sprinter who could feature for Wigan Warriors at Wembley

Ross Heppenstall
Zach Eckersley

When Adam Keighran was sent off in last weekend’s Super League victory at Warrington Wolves, it earned him a three-match ban which has potentially opened the door for Zach Eckersley to deputise for the Aussie centre in Saturday’s Challenge Cup final.

With Jake Wardle among the players rested last weekend, homegrown Eckersley was picked to play last week too – and he underlined his rich potential with a strong display.

Now, the imposing Oldham lad could be running out in front of around 70,000 fans as Wigan bid to win rugby league’s oldest and most famous trophy for a record-extending 21st time. Love Rugby League charts the development of the highly-rated 20-year-old and assesses his potential.


Eckersley played for Waterhead in his hometown of Oldham, the same club that Kevin Sinfield, Paul Sculthorpe and Barrie McDermott began their vaunted careers at.

Eckersley’s father Chris played for Oldham and Warrington Wolves as a winger. In his high school days, Eckersley was a keen sprinter and represented Oldham & Royton Harriers as well as Greater Manchester schools.

Eckersley joined Wigan on a scholarship aged 14 and has continued through the junior system right through to the first team. He made his senior debut away to Hull KR in August 2022, along with six other debutants and featured in Wigan’s pre-season campaign ahead of the 2023 season.

Though not making a first team appearance last season, Eckersley was a key player for the Reserves team who won the Grand Final against St Helens.

His appearance against Warrington last weekend was his sixth Super League outing of 2024, with his maiden senior try coming in the 60-22 win at London Broncos on March 9.

Eckersley has been in the first-team squad and 18th man for much of the current campaign, underlining how highly Wigan rate him.

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Style of play – “Very, very skilful”

At 6ft 3in and over 14stone, Eckersley bulked up during pre-season and his physicality was evident at the Halliwell Jones Stadium last weekend.

But he is also blessed with plenty of speed and skill to go with his power as he looks to push established centres Adam Keighran and Jake Wardle for a regular spot.

Wigan’s Academy head coach John Duffy told Love Rugby League: “I actually played with Zach’s dad Chris at Warrington. Chris was a winger who was lightning quick and Zach is as well to be fair.

“He’s got a good skillset for a centre and is learning all the time with great players in front of him in AK and Jake, who are showing him the ropes, and great coaches in Matty, Tommy and Lockers.

“We’ve been doing a lot of extra work with Zach this year in the event that he will be called upon at first-team level. If you watch us train, you can see that Zach is actually pushing Adam and Jake as well, so it’s bringing out the best of everyone at the moment.

“Zach comes from a great family who have been around the game for years, so he’s very grounded and humble – and obviously being at Wigan breeds that attitude and professionalism anyway.”

Championship experience

Eckersley may not have featured at all for Wigan’s first-team in 2023, but he did enjoy plenty of game-time out on loan, including five tries in eight appearances for Widnes Vikings.

He also spent time at London Broncos and Barrow Raiders and Duffy adds: “Zach went full-time last year and we got him some games in the Championship to see how he would cope.

“He coped very well and we know how classy he is – he’s killed it throughout our Academy and Reserves.

“But playing against some big, physical bodies in the Championship last year has stood him in good stead. Obviously he’s got a big future ahead of him.”

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Wembley beckons

Wigan have a number of options available to them as they look to fill the hole left by Keighran following his suspension.

But head coach Matt Peet spoke in glowing terms of Eckersley’s performance last week against Warrington and would have no qualms about starting him at Wembley.

Duffy adds: “If he gets selected to play in the Challenge Cup final, it would be a great story for Zach.

“I think the way we operate as a club, Matty will always have faith in his youth, especially with his own background of coming through the coaching ranks at Wigan as Head of Youth. He knows what he’s going to get out of these young lads.”

Whether or not Eckersley will play at Wembley remains to be seen, but Duffy admits: “Thinking about Zach playing at Wembley makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.

“It would be a great day for him and his family, the club itself and Matty for showing his faith in our young homegrown talent. We’ll see what happens when Matty picks the team.”

Name Zach Eckersley
Date of birth 10/11/2003
Position Centre
Senior debut Hull Kingston Rovers (A), 29/08/2022
Honours Lancashire Academy (Origin)

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