Wellens sees 'must-win' match
St Helens captain Paul Wellens admits the derby with Warrington Wolves is a must-win game if they are to keep alive their hopes of a top-two finish in Stobart Super League.
Saints were out of the top eight when coach Royce Simmons was sacked in March, but they have lost just twice under caretaker coaches Mike Rush and Kieron Cunningham since then to rekindle hopes of a seventh consecutive Grand Final appearance.
A win at Langtree Park tomorrow, to follow their 28-16 success at the Halliwell Jones Stadium, would close the gap on the second-placed Wolves to a single point with four games left of the regular season.
Wellens said: “If you go back a few months you wouldn’t have given us any chance of getting near the top two, but clubs have lost some games and results have gone our way to give us a chance.
“But no doubt we have to win on Monday if we want to finish top two because Warrington won’t drop that many points between now and the end of the season. This is a game we need to win.
“From where we were it would be a huge achievement. Slowly and surely we’ve gone about our business, taken each game at a time and picked up wins.”
Wigan Warriors will be keeping a close eye on the result tomorrow for a Saints victory would virtually secure them the league leaders’ shield, following their 48-10 win over Hull FC on Friday, which put them five points clear at the top.
St Helens are expecting a full house against the Wolves as they look to stretch their unbeaten home run to six matches.
“It’s up there with one of the big games with the recent history we’ve had,” Wellens added.
“They’re always close affairs, quite often going down to the wire, pardon the pun.
“We’re probably very similar in the way we play the game and I think that’s why they are exciting games and I think this will be no different.”
Double-chasing Warrington face Wigan on Saturday and Leeds Rhinos at Wembley later in the month, but coach Tony Smith is not yet looking past tomorrow’s fixture.
The Wolves have run up 90 points in their last two games since beating Huddersfield Giants in the Carnegie Challenge Cup semi-final, but Smith expects his in-form side to be tested to the full.
He believes the secret of Saints’ revival is their success in eventually coming to terms with the loss of England prop James Graham, their inspirational former captain who left at the end of last season to join Australian club Canterbury Bulldogs.
“We’re looking forward to Saints,” Smith said. “It’s at their ground and we haven’t been there before.
“They’ve had a hoodoo on us for a number of years in their home town. We’re keen to create a new history for ourselves over there.
“But we know we’ll have to be good to do that because they’re in very good form.
“They’ve found the formula of how to play without James Graham in their team. It took them some time to do that.
“He was that influential for that many years with the workload that he had. It took them some time to perform to their best and I think they’ve been able to do that in recent times.
“It probably cost a bloke his job but they’ve certainly found that confidence and got a roll on.”