Wigan could be forced to look once again into the player market for a starting centre after speculation linked Toby King with a return to Warrington for 2024.
King, 26, is contracted with Warrington until the end of 2025 as one of their marquee players, but joined Wigan on a season-long loan ahead of the current campaign.
The current two marquee player limit will increase to three next season, as long as at least one of those players is federation trained.
The salary cap is to remain at £2.1 for a fifth straight season, while club-trained marquee players will only count as £50,000 as part of the new rules.
It means King’s contract will only count towards a small percentage of Warrington’s salary cap, with two years left on his deal.
The return could force Wigan boss Matt Peet to look into the player market, with options also within his squad.
Toby King departure could see Wigan explore recruitment options
King is enjoying fine form at the DW Stadium since his move, with head coach Matt Peet admitting the decision is in Warrington’s hands.
He has been ever-present for the Warriors in 2023, featuring in all 14 Super League games, scoring four tries, as well as the Challenge Cup sixth round win over Leeds at Headingley Stadium.
Head coach Peet was recently asked about King amid the speculation, having previously expressed his desire of extending the player’s stint at the club.
“Obviously Toby King is here on loan. I’ve mentioned previously that it would be nice to keep him, but ultimately he is Warrington’s player,” Peet said.
“It’ll be Warrington’s decision to make.
“He settled in really well and is a popular member of the group.”
Peet is currently using all seven of his quota spots in 2023, although Cade Cust, Willie Isa, Kaide Ellis, Patrick Mago and Abbas Miski remain without deals beyond the current campaign.
A potential release could see Peet recruit from overseas, with more than 20 centres still without deals in the NRL.
Headline names include Waqa Blake, Adam Pompey and Billy Smith, although the former of the three has been linked with a code switch.
But there are also a host of available centres closer to home in Super League, while the Wigan ethos and culture is to promote from within.
Catalans overseas recruit Adam Keighran only made the move to Perpignan on a one-year deal, and has really impressed in his debut year, featuring in the halves and at centre, scoring five tries in 12 appearances.
Another player who remains without a deal is Salford’s Deon Cross.
The former Rochdale, Barrow and Widnes centre immediately looked at home in Super League upon his move to the Red Devils in 2022, and has gone on to score 18 tries in 40 Super League appearances.
Wigan to promote from within?
Wigan boss Peet has shared his admiration for rising centre Zach Eckersley, who will undoubtedly be waiting in the wings for his chance in the first team.
The 19-year-old Wigan product made his debut from the interchange bench last year against Hull KR, and has enjoyed recent loan spells in the Championship with Widnes, scoring five tries in as many appearances.
Peet previous labelled his rising prospect a ‘quality’ player, admitting he will get his chance in the first team in the near-future.
“I like what he’s been doing at Widnes,” Peet recently said. “He’s playing in some tough, physical games and is proving himself and we like much of what he’s doing out on loan.
“I would expect him to feature this year.”
Meanwhile, Iain Thornley is also currently at the DW Stadium as an option for both wing and centre. The 31-year-old has an option to extend his current deal into 2024, although it is yet to be confirmed.
In order to see game time, 2023 returning recruit Ryan Hampshire could also be a possibility in the centres, having regularly featured at full-back and in the halves during his career.
He returned to his former club ahead of 2023 from Castleford, with Wigan holding further options for two more seasons in his contract.
20-year-old Alex Sutton is another youngster within Wigan’s squad, given shirt number 25 for the 2023 season in the first team.
Junior Nsemba and Harvie Hill are two recent examples of prospects given their first team chance at Wigan, with both players impressing so far in 2023.
The Wigan system has produced a helluva lot of talent across the years, with the likes of current Wigan starters Harry Smith, Sam Powell and Liam Byrne having progressed through the systems.
Eckersley’s performances, including a debut hat-trick performance for Widnes against Swinton, prove that he’s deserved of his forthcoming chance.
The club recently lost Sam Halsall to Huddersfield, and must be lining up Eckersley’s move into the first team imminently in order to keep him at the club.
But I do also think that the recruitment of a strong centre would add to Wigan’s depth, allowing Eckersley to be the somewhat back-up choice as he continues to learn his trade, although I’d like to see him feature often in 2024 – and later this year.
Talented Australian recruit Keighran would be my call.
TOBY KING: Wigan boss on loanee’s future