Wane talks up Saints ahead of derby clash
Wigan Warriors coach Shaun Wane insists his Stobart Super League table-toppers will go into tomorrow’s final game of the regular season against St Helens as underdogs despite winning all three derbies so far this year.
Saints have lost only five matches since caretaker coaches Mike Rush and Keiron Cunningham took charge in March but three of them have been to their arch rivals, twice in the league and once in the Carnegie Challenge Cup.
They could yet meet three more times before the season is out, including the first round of the play-offs if St Helens fail to hang onto third place in the table.
The Warriors guaranteed top spot with last Sunday’s dramatic 42-36 win at Hull KR and will be presented with the league leaders’ shield after tomorrow’s game at the DW Stadium but Wane is not entirely happy with their form.
“We’re under pressure a bit to perform,” he said. “The last few weeks we’ve not been the best so we’ve got one or two things we need to fix. We’re under the pump this week.
“I’m going to put some new players in, it’s a short-turnaround - they’ve had a couple of days on us - and they’re the form team and obviously they will be favourites for this weekend’s game.
“St Helens are a fantastic team and, if we defend like we did last weekend, we will lose the game.”
The introduction of prop Stuart Fielden, for only his second appearance in two injury-hit seasons, suggests Wane is experimenting for a game his side does not need to win.
St Helens are also not at full strength but they need the win to clinch third place for the second successive season, which would represent a significant achievement for Rush, who inherited a side languishing outside the top eight with just two wins from their first seven games.
Victory tomorrow would mean a trip to second-placed Warrington Warriors next weekend and Rush insists that is their sole focus.
“If we weren’t still fighting for third, it would be a bit of a non-fixture and you’d be questioning how to go about it but, because we want to finish third, we’ll be going all out for it,” he said.
“To finish third from where we started would be a fair achievement.”
Wane has cranked up the pressure on Saints this week by claiming he would love to make it 4-0 but he will not need reminding that Wigan’s Grand-Final hopes last year were dashed by two late-season defeats at the hands of their big rivals.
St Helens had failed to win any of their first four derbies but won at the DW Stadium in the first round of the play-offs and delivered a knock-out blow to the defending champions at Widnes a week later.
Saints, who are aiming for a seventh consecutive appearance at Old Trafford, will particularly want to banish memories of their most recent derby meeting, a feisty encounter at the Etihad Stadium at the end of the Magic Weekend when three players were sent off for brawling and four were subsequently suspended.
“I hope we defend better than we did in Manchester,” said Rush, whose side lost 42-16.
“That wasn’t good enough for this club and the players had a tough week after that. I’m sure the players won’t want reminding of that game.
“We weren’t happy with the fighting because obviously you get suspensions and I’m sure Shaun will be same, you don’t want to be losing players at this stage of the season to something like that.
“It will be tough and it will be hard but we need to make sure that we don’t cross the line that impacts on what we do in the play-offs.”