Wigan Warriors host top of the league Castleford Tigers this Sunday in what is a huge game for one, and a bonus for the other. A win for Wigan will almost cement their play-off places, while Castleford will remain first no matter the result.
LAST TIME OUT
Wigan Warriors come into this game on the back of a battling, nail-biting, heroic 30-22 win away to Challenge Cup winners – Hull FC. From the get go you could see this was going to be a brutal, bone-cruncher affair. Following an early Marc Sneyd penalty, Oliver Gildart went over for the games first try, and Wigan led 6-2 after 10 minutes. Mahe Fonua levelled the scores minutes later, and then a George Williams penalty put Wigan 8-6 ahead in the 19th minute. Then, in the 22nd minute came the game-changer, as Liam Watts was sent off for elbowing Michael McIlorum smack bang in the face. Its divided a lot of people this week, for me it was the correct call, and that’s all I’ll say on the matter, it’s been and gone. The scores remained the same until the 42nd minute when Wigan would hit Hull for a quick one-two when Anthony Gelling and Tom Davies went over to put Wigan 20-6 up. The game seemed done at this stage, with Wigan three scores up, against a wounded, 12-man Hull side, how wrong you could’ve been. Hull FC turned on the turbo and scored three tries in 12 minutes through Sika Manu, Shaul and Fonua to miraculously put Hull 22-20 up with just seven minutes to play. It was an unreal effort, but an effort that wasn’t enough as Wigan snatched the win with two tries in the final three minutes through Gelling and John Bateman to wrap-up an unbelievable 30-22 win.
Castleford Tigers come into this game on the back of a comfortable 38-24 win over fellow rivals – Leeds Rhinos. After the game, coach Daryl Powell said he wasn’t too pleased with how his lads performed. But, he’s clear at the top, just won the league leaders shield and beaten Leeds by 14 points, what more could he want? It was Leeds who got off to the best start when Kallum Watkins went over and Leeds led 6-0 after just seven minutes. Then came the Tigers rampage. They ran in five first half tries to go 30-6 up at halftime. The tries came from Greg Eden, Jake Webster, Adam Foster and two from Ben Roberts. The first half performance alone, won the game and ultimately sealed the two points. Which is why there was no surprise to see the drop in concentration, and effort in the second half from Powell’s men. The Tigers now have the luxury of stepping off the pedal in these last few games, as they can’t go any lower in the league, and certainly can’t go any higher. Leeds won the second half 18-8 and made the scoreline seem a little better than it could’ve been on the day of the Tigers would have been on for the full 80 minutes. Leeds’ second half tries came from Jamie Jones-Buchanan, Matt Parcell and Mitch Garbutt. Tries that were split by a Greg Minikin effort and a penalty from Luke Gale which sealed a comfortable 38-24 win for the Tigers.
Sam Tomkins vs Zak Hardaker
This is the most talked about battle of the weekend. It puts together two of the best English full-backs in the game and a chance for both to show Wayne Bennett why they should be going to the World Cup later this year. Hardaker has been the best full-back in the league by far this season, and since his return, Tomkins has started to turn on the style.
This is where all the action will be on Sunday. With Joe Burgess returning in place of Liam Marshall, I would expect to see him on the scoresheet. As for the Tigers, despite missing a few players, they are rather stating out wide with Greg Eden, Greg Minikin, Michael Shenton and Jake Webster all included in the 19-man squad for this week’s game.
Managing the losses
Wigan are going to be without their most influential player in recent weeks, Sean O’Loughlin. He has proven to be key to their huge wins against Saints and Hull FC. As for Castleford, they’re without several players, with the most key being Luke Gale, who has been pivotal to their success this season.
This is an absolute must win for Wigan Warriors. All their hard work in the previous two games goes out the window otherwise. As for Castleford, a win is a bonus, but I can’t see them going all out for the win in this one. Especially as the cynic in me notices they could potentially avoid Wigan in the semi-finals with a defeat here.
Wigan Warriors by 14
Wigan Warriors head coach Shaun Wane:
“People forget we’ve done it tough, and to get into this position has been a great effort from the players.
“We knew we were okay, we knew what we were capable of it, everyone else doubted us and that’s a good motivational factor for us.
“Last year we had a chronic injury crisis and we had one worse earlier this year – and that’s why we’re playing catch-up now.”
Castleford Tigers head coach Daryl Powell:
“They will be wanting to put a marker down and you have always got to front up when you go to play at Wigan.
“Look at what’s happening to them – they have got a bit of impetus, they have won some games after the Challenge Cup and they will be ready for this.
“They will be pretty happy they have got us at this stage and we have got to go there and show we have got some steel about us.”
Sean O’Loughlin misses out for the Warriors with Shaun Wane confirming the skipper has a slight calf injury. Jack Wells comes in for Wigan whilst Joe Burgess and Joel Tomkins are both included. Burgess was a late withdrawal last week at Hull with a hamstring problem whilst Tomkins (groin) failed to prove his fitness.
Powell will be without a host of first team players after Friday night’s win over Leeds Rhinos with Luke Gale, Jy Hitchcox, Junior Moors, Larne Patrick and Ben Roberts missing, making way for Matt Cook, Oliver Holmes, Tom Holmes, Joel Monaghan and Jake Trueman to step back into the 19-man squad.
Wigan Warriors: John Bateman, Joe Burgess, Tony Clubb, Tom Davies, Liam Farrell, Anthony Gelling, Oliver Gildart, Willie Isa, Thomas Leuluai, Liam Marshall, Michael Mcilorum, Frank-Paul Nuuausala, Sam Powell, Ryan Sutton, Taulima Tautai, Joel Tomkins, Sam Tomkins, Jack Wells, George Williams.
Castleford Tigers: Matt Cook, Greg Eden, Alex Foster, Zak Hardaker, Oliver Holmes, Tom Holmes, Kevin Larroyer, Nathan Massey, Mike McMeeken, Paul McShane, Grant Millington, Adam Milner, Greg Minikin, Joel Monaghan, Jesse Sene-Lefao, Michael Shenton, Gadwin Springer, Jake Trueman and Jake Webster
Referee: Ben Thaler
Venue: DW Stadium, Wigan
Date/Time: Sunday 17th September 2017 – 15:00pm BST