Wigan eyeing World Club Challenge
Wigan Warriors will kick off the new First Utility Super League season tomorrow night with one eye very much on the World Club Challenge.
The Warriors begin the defence of their domestic title at the DW Stadium against Huddersfield Giants, the team that shocked the league in 2013 by finishing top of the table for the first time for 81 years.
The round one fixture has been brought forward a week to enable the Super League champions to fly down under to prepare for their showdown with NRL premiers Sydney Roosters and coach Shaun Wane says he chose their opening opponents with that clash in Sydney in mind.
"I asked for Huddersfield specifically because they're big, athletic and they're very skilful," Wane said. "They're the perfect opposition. I requested it and they were good enough to accept it.
"I just wanted to get the players used to managing bigger bodies so it couldn't have worked better for us, having a game against them and then New Zealand Warriors before we go to Sydney; it's perfect preparation for us.
"But I'm under no illusions; this is a huge game. They're the league leaders and we want to give ourselves a bit of momentum at the start of the year. It would be great to get two points against a very good team.
"We need to make sure we improve on a few things from the game against St Helens."
Wigan warmed up for the season with a 28-16 win over Saints in the James Roby testimonial match with a performance that impressed Huddersfield coach Paul Anderson.
The champions have brought in a host of new faces, such as Matt Bowen, Eddy Pettybourne, Dan Sarginson and Tony Clubb, to replace departed stars Sam Tomkins, Lee Mossop, Harrison Hansen and Pat Richards and, with a production line of rising talent, Anderson expects them to be the team to beat once more.
"You look at Wigan from the top all the way down, it's probably the strongest club in the competition in regards to their juniors," Anderson said.
"On Friday they put all their kids on and still scored 18 points against a pretty decent Saints team. The strength in depth they have is unreal.
"I think it is right that we've got such a big game to kick us off and it's got everybody talking about it.
"What you've got is the two teams who won silverware last season, we've just got to make sure we go and perform like the team that we are."
Huddersfield, who laid a marker at the start of last season with a 40-4 win at St Helens, did the league double over Wigan in 2013 but Wane's men got their revenge in the play-offs and the Giants' hopes of a maiden Grand Final appearance were dashed when they went on to lose at Warrington Wolves.
Even after their landmark year in 2013 and with the addition of Salford Red Devils flier Jodie Broughton and experienced London Broncos forwards Antonio Kaufusi and Chris Bailey, question marks remain over Huddersfield's ability to achieve the big breakthrough.
However, Wane believes they are the real deal. "They've got some good players and they will be hurting over the way their season finished last year," he said. "I reckon they will be a strong team this year."
The Giants caught Saints on the hop 12 months ago but a victory at the DW Stadium would not rank as big a shock and Anderson is not expecting the champions' focus to be elsewhere.
"I doubt it," Anderson said. "Knowing Waney, there is no chance. They had a fair hit-out on Friday against Saints which I went to. They're ready to go."