Cup kings Wigan go into the heat of battle against a determined Hull FC who are fresh in form, and with the kudos of finishing top of the Super League after the regular season.
Had this game been played three weeks ago it would have been the record 19-time cup winners who would have been going into it in confident mood, with the Black& Whites having just lost consecutive games for the first time since March at that time, and the men from the DW Stadium sitting pretty at the top of the ladder on the back of an eight match winning streak.
Fast forward to now and, after their respective league positions were swapped thanks to two defeats, caused mainly by disastrous performances from Wigan, and the Airlie Birds having suddenly got their mojo back to bag consecutive wins, one of which was a derby thumping of their rivals from the same town, and the other away to the notoriously difficult Salford Red Devils, and this game has a whole different complexion.
While the Warriors spluttered and stuttered to defeat at home in their derby against in-form St. Helens, Lee Radford’s men produced a resilient, effective performance to seal top spot going into the Super 8s, at the AJ Bell Stadium.
Wigan Warriors: John Bateman, Joe Bretherton, Dom Crosby, Ben Flower, Oliver Gildart, Willie Isa, Dom Manfredi, Lee Mossop, Sean O’Loughlin, Sam Powell, Dan Sarginson, Kyle Shelford, Jake Shorrocks, Matty Smith, Ryan Sutton, Taulima Tautai, Lewis Tierney, Sam Tomkins, George Williams.
Hull FC: Jamie Shaul, Mahe Fonua, Carlos Tuimavave, Fetuli Talanoa, Marc Sneyd, Scott Taylor, Danny Houghton, Liam Watts, Gareth Ellis, Mark Minichiello, Jordan Abdull, Chris Green, Jordan Thompson, Steve Michaels, Sika Manu, Josh Bowden, Frank Pritchard, Kirk Yeaman, Danny Washbrook.
Wigan will try and frustrate the Airlie Birds with their outstanding defence, in what is likely to be a game of attack v defence. Hull will, no doubt, try and beat the Warriors smaller pack down the middle, former Warriors prop Scott Taylor could be a very important part of the Black & White’s go forward, and Wigan will have to try and counteract him.
However, if you can stop Taylor, he has very impressive back-up in the likes of Liam Watts, Chris Green and former Wigan target Josh Bowden, all of which are also capable of punching big holes in any defence, and that’s before you introduce Gareth Ellis, Sika Manu and marquee player Frank ‘The Tank’ Pritchard into the mix.
Wigan do have many strike players with the likes of Sam Tomkins, and the NRL bound Dan Sarginson in their backline, and Radford is a known admirer of back-row/centre John Bateman who is likely to waltz away with the Warriors player of the year award, despite his recent, club imposed 8 match ban.
However the returning Carlos Tuimavave and Jamie Shaul also carry considerable threat, and the battle that could prove vital could be in the halves of both sides. George Williams and Matty Smith, when in form, are a very settled pairing, Williams is likely to be the more eye-catching in attack, while Smith is more dependable and a much better organisor than his youthful partner.
Radford could name either the explosive Tuimavave, or the recently very impressive Jordan Abdull alongside the outstanding Marc Sneyd, if Hull can afford him enough time on the ball, Sneyd is capable of first, kicking Wigan to death, then cutting their defence apart with his short kicking game, and expert distribution.
In better form, and with more key personnel available to them Hull FC will start as favourites. In the Challenge Cup upsets do happen quite regularly, although a win for the Warriors would not be seen as a big shock, given their cup pedigree and know how. However Hull FC, at virtually full strength, should have too much pace and power for them, if they get a role on, it could be a long night at the office for Wigan.
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