Venue: DW Stadium, Wigan
Wigan Warriors: tba
Warrington Wolves: tba
Last game result: Wigan Warriors 57 – 4 Huddersfield Giants
2nd last game: Wigan Warriors 24 – 20 Warrington Wolves
3rd last game: Wigan Warriors 21 – 6 Leeds Rhinos
4th last game: Widnes Vikings 24 – 10 Wigan Warriors
5th last game: Hull Kingston Rovers 14 – 14 Wigan Warriors
Last game result: Castleford Tigers 14 – 30 Warrington Wolves
2nd last game: Warrington Wolves 19 – 22 Warrington Wolves
3rd last game: Wigan Warriors 24 – 20 Warrington Wolves
4th last game: St Helens 12 – 39 Warrington Wolves
5th last game: Warrington 24 – 24 Warrington Wolves
Nothing in the Super League excites me as much as when Wigan play Warrington. There is no other game that really gets my blood flowing like playing the Wire. It’s only a recent thing though and I wouldn’t even class it as a derby. Wigan’s derbies are the traditional St Helens matchups and due to the lack of any Origin game, the Lancashire vs Yorkshire clash against the biggest club from across the hills, Leeds. With Warrington it’s more of a rivalry. One that lacks respect, from both sides. Based not upon geographical location – even though it’s only 13 miles between the two towns – or even a historical fight for trophies, like Wigan had with Widnes in the late eighties and nineties. It’s a just a pure hatred. Warrington hate Wigan. Wigan hate Warrington.
With the line ups yet to be announced, it’s Warrington who face the bigger selection headaches. Wigan-born full back Matty Russell is out, having suffered a broken jaw two weeks ago as Warrington felled Widnes in the first round of the play offs. Ben Westwood could make a return to action though, a big plus for the Wolves. Westwood offers them a robust runner with excellent offload skills. His return will throw a few more chillies into an already sizzling pan. After his punch on Blake Green in last year’s Grand Final, the bloke will have a bounty on his head and it doesn’t take much for Wigan’s Michael Mcllorum to go a head hunting. And he invariably comes back with his prize.
Wigan on the other hand are more or less at full strength, injury plagued throughout the season, lthough, who isn’t?) all their players are coming back at the right time. The half back partnership of Blake Green and Matty Smith is starting to hit the heights of last year, hooker Mcllorum is performing at his usual aggressive, busy self. Most importantly for the Warriors, Sean O’Loughlin is still tackling everything that moves. The bookies have them at evens to be Champions, and they rarely get things wrong.
The benefit of a week off cannot be underestimated. Last year as Wigan beat Leeds to reach Old Trafford, it was patently obvious just how important the week off was. Leeds were tired, and were getting beating to every tackle, drive and catch. Furthermore, this year’s club call was nowhere near as hard to call as last years. Wigan will have known all along their opponents were 99% going to be Warrington, who were heavy favourites going into their clash with Castleford last Friday. They will have trained accordingly. Shaun Wane is a clever coach, and they will have had two weeks to prepare for this clash, and prepare they will have done.
If Wigan do come out on top, as the bookies and many neutrals believe they will, the game will be won in the halves. Wigan’s kicking game is always fantastic, and it is up to Warrington to match it. Twice this season it has been the Warriors who have been able to boot to ball more successfully, and if the outcome is to change, Warrington will have to step it up a gear. Down the middle, I score it fairly even, Ben Westwood’s return would certainly help the Wolves though. In the backs, Matty Russell will be a huge loss for Warrington, his kick returns can be deadly. He is a really talented youngster, one Wigan may well regret letting go of in years to come. But it is up to whoever steps into his shoes to fill that void. Their opposite number Matty Bowen has hit some form in recent months. After a shaky start, he has scored some truly unbelievable tries, and has looked far more secure under the high ball. Wolves have it all to do.
Warrington will bring a vociferous following, whilst Wigan will be hopeful of large attendance. The league fixture attracted fifteen and a half thousand, and whilst the gate will most probably not swell to those heights, there should be the first five figure attendance of these playoff series at the DW. I fancy Wigan. I think. I love these games. So often Super League can be predictable, and but for a few games, you can often predict the winner with ease. No, I’m going to nail my colours to the mast, and say Wigan will win this by 4-8 points. I forsee a close, frantic start, then Wigan pulling it out the bag late on.
This is what it’s all about though. The winner of this match will most probably become champions. That is of no disrespect to St Helens, but for both Wigan and Warrington, this is each team’s hardest game. St Helens, should they overcome the inform Catalans, will be rubbing their hands watching Wigan and Warrington knock lumps out of each other.
Friday can’t come quick enough, and I can almost taste my first beer already. May the best team win.
Previous meetings this season
It’s poised beautifully, and Friday offers the Wolves a shot of redemption over the club who until last year’s Grand Final, just couldn’t beat them. Despite Wigan’s success throughout the Super League era, beating Warrington always proved tricky. And at half time in the Grand Final, that looked to be continuing. But history deemed it wasn’t the year of the wolf, and Wigan stormed to victory with the biggest ever Grand Final comeback. And their form against the Wolves has gone from strength to strength since. A first league win away at Warrington since 2010 was followed up by a barn storming success in the last regular season match. Ironically, another comeback win. That match was many peoples game of the season: Ebbing and flowing throughout, the second forty minutes of rugby league from Wigan was the best I’ve seen from any side, NRL or Super League, for a long, long time.
Wigan by 4-8