Shaun Wane’s Wigan are unbeaten this season, with their ebullient head coach adamant that his squad still has a lot more to offer. Wane talks of a winning mentality in the Wigan camp, and it’s fair to say that the cherry and whites have shown an inner steel from the word go in 2016. They’ve ground out victories, finding a way to win when all seemed lost against Huddersfield Giants and holding their nerve away to in-form Hull FC, winning by a single point in their latest outing.
The Warriors’ gritty-but-effective displays are in stark contrast to those of this Friday’s visitors, the Leeds Rhinos. With just one solitary win on the board, the champions’ were far from convincing in defeating fellow basement dwellers Huddersfield in a game most neutrals felt the Giants deserved.
It’s a big ask to expect Leeds to up their game to a sufficient level by Friday night to end Wigan’s unbeaten run. The Warriors have made the DW stadium a fortress in the last twelve months, their last defeat on home soil stretching way back to the middle of last season.
Both squads have lost key players to injury. The Rhinos well-publicised casualty list remains critical, despite the return of hooker Beau Falloon and winger Ash Handley from injury, and the continued availability of stalwart forward Jamie Jones-Buchanan confirmed this week. Prop Mitch Garbutt is also available for selection having completed his two match suspension for punching. On the downside, however, boss Brian McDermott loses centre Joel Moon and second rower Brett Delaney who both sustained injuries against the Giants.
Wigan, meanwhile, have lost hooker Michael McIlorum who is out for the season. Skipper Sean O’Loughlin has been declared fit after picking up an injury in the warm up before the Hull FC game last week, and is a big boost to the Warriors’ squad.
Wane is pleased with the squad’s positive mind-set ahead of ‘The Rematch’. “To go four from four, not playing well and not having the players together that much shows that the team have a good winning mentality” he said.
“I’m very happy with where we’re at, we’re finding a way to win these games, we are making hard work of some of them which is uncomfortable for me but we’re still finding a way to win and that’s the positive.”
Opposite number McDermott, however, is not at all happy with his Rhinos side, despite opening their 2016 account last week. “I don’t think we’re lacking confidence or are overanxious, I just think we’re desperate. I thought we worked our rocks off defensively but were disjointed in attack.”
Describing their maiden win against Huddersfield as “disappointing” in terms of his players’ performance, McDermott also singled out his enforced halfback pairing of Jordan Lilley and stand-off Liam Sutcliffe for criticism. McDermott’s concerns over his team’s lack of attacking inspiration is justified, given the fact that the Rhinos are the second-lowest scoring side in the competition to date. Defensively, Leeds are clearly working hard for each other, but the loss of Delaney is significant. The tattooed Aussie has been a tackling machine in the opening fixtures and the Rhinos will no doubt miss his work rate at the DW on Friday.
Despite being billed as ‘The Rematch’ after last season’s Grand Final, which Leeds won by a two-point margin, in truth the Rhinos are a very different animal in 2016. Leeds will give a good account of themselves, and will be boosted by the addition of Falloon in particular, but their frailties in both attack and defence have been exposed in the opening rounds. It’s payback time for the unbeaten Warriors, who will look to make a statement against their bitter rivals. Another home win for the Warriors.
Wigan: Bateman, Bretherton, Burke, Charnley, Clubb, Farrell, Flower, Gelling, Gildart, Gregson, Manfredi, Mossop, O’Loughlin, Powell, Sarginson, Smith, Sutton, Tautai, Williams.
Leeds: Hardaker, Watkins, Hall, Burrow, Galloway, Falloon, Cuthbertson, Jones-Buchanan, Sutcliffe, Singleton, Garbutt, Keinhorst, Achurch, Mullally, Walters, Handley, Baldwinson, Lilley, Ferres.