Wigan can expect a flurry of big-name applications following the shock decision of Shaun Wane to step down as head coach of his hometown club at the end of the season.

Former captains Shaun Edwards and Andy Farrell are among the names being mooted as potential replacements for the 53-year-old Wane, who will end a 36-year association as player and coach at the conclusion of this campaign.

Wane, who began his playing career with Wigan in 1982 and has gone on to become their longest-serving coach of the Super League era, says the time is right to seek a new challenge.

Despite his devotion to Wigan, Wane has made no secret of his desire to coach in Australia’s National Rugby League, although he has also been linked with a move to French Super League club Catalans Dragons, who have signed Sam Tomkins for 2019.

Wigan are set to groom current captain Sean O’Loughlin for the job one day, but in the short term seem likely to look to Australia for a replacement.

There will inevitably be a clamour for Edwards, their most decorated player who recently spoke of his desire to return to rugby league after a successful coaching career in rugby union.

The announcement came out of the blue, just two days after Wigan produced what Wane described as his team’s best performance of the season, a 38-10 derby victory over Warrington at the Magic Weekend which keeps them in touch with Betfred Super League leaders St Helens.

Shaun Wane, centre, has led Wigan to several titles during his spell as head coach (Martin Rickett/PA)Shaun Wane, centre, has led Wigan to several titles during his spell as head coach (Martin Rickett/PA)

Wane, who was promoted to head coach in succession to Australian Michael Maguire in 2011, has led Wigan to victory in the Challenge Cup, World Club Challenge and two Super League Grand Finals and is hoping to finish with more silverware.

In a statement, Wane said: “Regrettably I have decided to announce my resignation as head coach of Wigan Warriors with the 2018 season being my last in charge.

“The town of Wigan and the club will always remain special to me however I feel that now is the right time for me to seek a new challenge and direction in my professional career.

“As head coach, I have taken the club to six major finals, winning three, given debuts to 37 players from the Wigan academy and won a World Club Challenge, to name but a few.

Wane has been linked with Catalans Dragons, who have signed Warriors full-back Sam Tomkins, pictured, for next year (Martin Rickett/PA)Wane has been linked with Catalans Dragons, who have signed Warriors full-back Sam Tomkins, pictured, for next year (Martin Rickett/PA)

“These accolades have given me both personal and professional satisfaction and the memories will remain with me ever more.

“I have one last task to complete and that is to bring home as much silverware as possible this season.”

Wigan chairman Ian Lenagan said: “Shaun Wane will leave in the knowledge that his place in Wigan’s history is guaranteed.

“I feel certain that his decision to leave will have been a difficult one but he is a winner who wants to advance his career and challenge himself further on a different stage, having won everything with Wigan.

“He has developed from being a tough and uncompromising rugby league prop in his playing days to become an equally tough and uncompromising head coach but with exceptional technical, tactical and player-motivational skills and a fearsome winning mentality.

“I have immense respect and admiration for Shaun as a coach and would be delighted to see him sign off his seventh year as Wigan head coach with yet more trophies.”