Derby debate rages
Stobart Super League officials are expecting 80,000 fans to flock to the five Good Friday fixtures as the debate rages over which is the biggest derby.
Warrington Wolves coach Tony Smith dubbed his side’s meeting with Widnes Vikings tonight as a “genuine derby” but Bradford’s joint captain Matt Diskin, a former Leeds player, believes it pales in comparison to when the Bulls lock horns with the Rhinos.
“I believe this is the biggest derby in Super League,” said Diskin, whose side take on the champions at Odsal tomorrow night. “It’s a real special occasion.
“I’ve experienced both sides of it and you can feel the pride and passion from both sides. It’s one of the first fixtures you look for on the calendar.”
Wigan Warriors coach Shaun Wane is in a position to make a valid comparison as he prepares to take charge of his first derby with St Helens at Langtree Park tomorrow afternoon.
“I played in a Leeds-Bradford derby but there is nothing compared to this,” said Wane.
“I played in some great ones at Knowsley Road and Central Park in front of massive crowds.
“It’s been bred in me since I was a kid. Wigan people say we can lose against anybody apart from this game. I don’t want to go there and get beat by that team.”
It is the first time in living memory that both Wigan and St Helens will be coached by local men, with Mike Rush hoping to make it three wins out of three under his temporary care of Saints.
“There are a lot of local lads in the St Helens team and a lot of locals in my team,” Wane added. “It has the makings of a great game.
“You don’t need to get your players up for this. There is a lot of healthy dislike for St Helens.”
Both teams will be without their regular captains. James Roby will lead the home side in the absence of the suspended Paul Wellens while Brett Finch is expected to take over from Sean O’Loughlin, who failed a fitness test today on a knee injury which kept him out of last week’s win at Salford City Reds.
O’Loughlin’s place in Wigan’s 19-man squad is taken by Logan Tomkins, who hopes to line up alongside brother Sam for the first time in a competitive match.
Saints will go into the game as favourites after turning their fortunes around with back-to-back wins over Leeds and Warrington.
“They look like the old St Helens,” Wane admitted. “Their skill levels have always been good and they look to be playing with a lot more freedom and enthusiasm.
“We need to make sure we defend tough and take that enthusiasm away. The team that wants it more will win the game.”
The game at Langtree Park is an 18,000 sell-out while Bradford are hoping for a 20,000-plus crowd to boost their fight for survival.
Outside Super League, locals will turn out in force for the Heavy Woollen derby between Batley and Dewsbury and the clash of Cumbrian neighbours Workington and Whitehaven but passions are likely to be at their most intense at the KC Stadium, where ticket sales today reached 19,000.
The 215th Hull derby will be the first for Black and Whites boss Peter Gentle and his Rovers counterpart and fellow Australian Craig Sandercock.
“I wasn’t aware of how big it is until I got here,” said Sandercock. “But on my first day here someone mentioned it and I’ve been reminded about it every day since.
“So I’m under no illusions as to how big it is and what it means to the people of East Hull and the supporters of this great club.
“We can safely say it’s the only game we want to win for our supporters more than ourselves. They’re the ones who follow our football team and they deserve to have some success.”
Rovers, who switched the match because of development work at Craven Park, have won just one of their five away games so far and take on a Hull FC side that can go top of the table - at least for three hours - with a sixth straight win.
“You’d like to go in on the back of some results but it’s a derby and you know the players will rise to the challenge,” added Sandercock.
“If the motivation has to come from me then we’re in trouble.
“They’re second in the ladder and they will want to cement that position.
I’ve not seen much of Hull FC but they’re winning every game they play and that’s very impressive.”
Leaders Huddersfield Giants’ Good Friday afternoon 'derby' is a Roses clash with Salford, who need a win to retain their top-eight spot.
The Giants are probably the only club in Super League at full strength, with captain Kevin Brown and former Wakefield Trinity Wildcats pair Dale Ferguson and Aaron Murphy all recovering from injury.
“We’ve had 28 blokes training and all 28 are capable of playing Super League,” said assistant coach Paul Anderson.