Giants are big favourites - Wane
Wigan Warriors coach Shaun Wane concedes Huddersfield Giants are "hot" favourites to kick off the Super League play-off series with victory at the John Smith's Stadium tomorrow night.
The prize at stake in the clash between the Challenge Cup winners and the league leaders is direct entry into the semi-finals and a week off, with the losers receiving another chance in the second week of the play-offs.
Huddersfield have a dismal play-off record, with just two wins from their previous nine ties, but they finished top of the league - for the first time for 81 years - and have done the double over the Warriors, who stumbled over the finishing line with seven defeats in their last nine matches of the regular season to end up fourth.
"It's a real challenge for us," Wane said.
"At this stage of the competition you are going to get a tough team and obviously with them being the league leaders and having beaten us twice, they're going to be the hot favourites."
The Giants are widely regarded as the surprise package of 2013, having finished last year in seventh place, but Wane says he expected them to be a force under new head coach Paul Anderson.
"I'm not surprised because I know the way Paul works," Wane said. "I've known him since he was a kid.
"He's a very intense, hard-working bloke and he's taken that into his coaching. I'm very pleased for him, especially with him being an English coach. He's showed people the way.
"Even when Nathan (Brown) was there, they played a great brand of rugby league and Paul has brought a bit more consistency. They also signed some very good players."
Five of Huddersfield's players were this week named in the 2013 Super League Dream Team, along with four from Wigan, but the Warriors will again be without one of them, their inspirational captain Sean O'Loughlin, who is sidelined with an Achilles injury.
"We've missed Lockers," Wane said. "He's a great player and any club would miss him but it's my challenge as coach to get someone in who can do as good a job."
Wigan are also without centre Darrell Goulding through concussion but have prop Gil Dudson back after missing last week's home defeat by Leeds Rhinos with a shoulder injury.
Huddersfield are expected to be at full strength, having rested no fewer than 13 players for last week's meaningless game at Bradford Bulls, as they look to complete a hat-trick of wins over the 2010 champions.
Hooker Shaun Lunt, one of their five dream-team representatives, says the Giants are not taking any encouragement from last month's win at Wigan, who were without Sam Tomkins, Matty Smith and Ben Flower, in addition to O'Loughlin.
"They had some world-class players out," said Lunt, who was in the Leeds team that won the Grand Final last October.
"They will be a totally different side on Thursday night. It's play-off rugby and it doesn't matter what happened in the league. Look at Leeds last year, we finished fifth and went on to win it."
Lunt was involved in sudden-death rugby 12 months ago after the Rhinos finished outside the top four but he is hoping the Giants do not need their second bite of the cherry.
"There's a safety net but you don't want to lose because you're panicking a bit for the next game," he said.
"If you win that game, you can relax and heal a few injuries and knocks and get ready for the semi-final."
Wane is confident his side can bounce back from their home defeat by Leeds.
"They've no injuries in their team so we have a real challenge," he said.
"We need a big improvement on last week but I am confident with what we can do if we attack well and defend well.
"I know if we turn up with our A-one game, we will give ourselves a chance to win."