Warriors out for revenge
Wigan Warriors have the chance to complete their revenge for last year’s play-off defeat when they take on St Helens in the final game of the Magic Weekend in Manchester.
The Warriors, who fell at the penultimate hurdle in their bid to reach Old Trafford for a second successive year, have already beaten their arch-rivals in the Stobart Super League and knocked them out of the Challenge Cup and are favourites to complete the hat-trick at the Etihad Stadium tomorrow.
Another victory would put the leaders a massive nine points clear of their neighbours and deliver a body blow to their hopes of a top-four finish, yet Wigan captain Sean O’Loughlin is anticipating a close-fought game.
“We know how tough the last two games were and we will have to be on the ball again this weekend,” said O’Loughlin.
“They’ve had some good form over the last few months since they got the new coaches in.
“I know they’ve been beaten but it’s not been straightforward. They’ve been tough, hard-fought wins.”
Saints’ only defeats since Mike Rush and Keiron Cunningham took charge two months ago have been at the hands of Shaun Wane’s men, who are themselves enjoying a nine-match winning run in all competitions.
“Our form is good at the minute,” added O’Loughlin. “It’s good to be in this position but we’ve got a desire to keep improving. Waney rides us hard and makes sure we are always wanting to get better.”
St Helens captain Paul Wellens was delighted with the way his side responded to their cup defeat at Wigan and is hoping they can use Monday’s league win over champions Leeds Rhinos as a springboard to propel them up the table.
Currently sixth, Wellens knows victory tomorrow is essential if they are to keep in touch with the pacesetters and maintain realistic hopes of reaching a seventh consecutive Grand Final.
“With the poor start we had, to finish in the top four and give ourselves a better opportunity to get to Old Trafford is probably our aim at the moment,” he said.
“And, if in the next few weeks we find ourselves in the top four, then we can strive for third or second and just play it week by week.
“We recognise it’s going to be a tough game. We have a lot of respect for Wigan and their players but we also feel when we play as good as we can, we are more than a match for anybody.”
Eighth-placed Leeds will look to avoid a third successive defeat for the second time this year when they take on local rivals Bradford Bulls in the third game in Manchester.
The Rhinos are the only team with a 100% record in the Magic Weekend and former Leeds favourite Francis Cummins, now assistant coach at Bradford, admits they will be looking to atone for their home defeat by St Helens as well as their Good Friday loss at Odsal.
“You are always wary of a backlash against them, especially if people write them off,” said Cummins. “They have a great history of doing that, as they showed last year.
“Knowing the players and Brian (McDermott, Leeds coach) as well as I do, I know that the strength within the group is immense but like any other team they are capable of being beaten, as they have shown over the past few weeks, and we want to add another defeat to that.”
Another coach wary of a backlash is Salford City Reds boss Phil Veivers, who is expecting Huddersfield Giants to bounce back from their home defeat by Wigan when they meet in the second game up tomorrow.
“I’d say they are wounded dogs,” said Veivers. “They’ve come up with a couple of losses over the last week or so, so they’re probably going to be more determined to get a result.
“But we’re not that far off. One of the big things we’re going to have to do is grab anything that comes our way.”
Salford’s recent signing Luke Tower is closer to making his Super League debut after being named in Veivers’ 19-man squad.
“He’s done all the training and had a good game in the (under-)20s the other week,” he said. “We’ll keep monitoring how he’s going.”
London Broncos will be playing at a different venue for a seventh successive week following two “on-the-road” home fixtures but they boast one of the best records at the Magic Weekend with just one defeat in five matches, a narrow 18-16 loss to Catalan Dragons in 2008.
The high-flying Dragons are favourites to take the spoils tomorrow after winning at the Twickenham Stoop at Easter and averaging more than 33 points a game.
“I looked at their stats for their last match and most of their players made over 100 metres,” said Broncos coach Rob Powell.
“They pass the ball around and share the workload and that makes them a challenging team.”