Take what you think you know about Rugby League football. Put a pin in it. It doesn’t apply here.
St Helens vs Wigan, full house, opening night. Literally anything could happen.
A new season, a new coach for Wigan, and new stars on both sides of the tape, but the same passion burning fiercely under this melting pot of skill, athleticism and emotion makes this one of the most enthralling games in recent memory.
Wigan the Champions, St Helens the League Leaders’ Shield winners, and two blank form guides. We know these teams will likely be at the top end of the table come October, but what will we learn at the Totally Wicked on Thursday night?
Let’s start with the home team, Saints. So good for so long in 2018 before falling short when it mattered most on semi-final night. Justin Holbrook’s side may be adjusting to life after Ben Barba, but just look at that spine….
Roby, Richardson, Lomax, and new Fullback Lachlan Coote; the return of Alex Walmsley, and more Southern Hemisphere stars in Joseph Paulo and Kevin Naiqama, Saints have genuine menace all over the park, and the Wigan defence will need to be at their best.
Spread yourself too thin, and that battering ram of a pack could destroy you up the middle; overload in the forwards, and the pace of Tommy Makinson (11/1 first tryscorer) and Regan Grace (12/1 First tryscorer) out wide will punish you. For his first game in charge, Adrian Lam couldn’t have asked for a tougher assignment.
On the other side of the gain line, the Warriors look equally menacing. Sam Tomkins may be gone, but a halfback pairing of George Williams (4/1 anytime tryscorer) and either Tommy Leuluai or Sam Powell is enough to unpick any lock, and he may have been out of the game for a season, but Saints will need to keep one eye on Zak Hardaker at all times.
The pantomime villain? Maybe. Potential match winner? Undoubtedly.
So where is this game won?
Obvious statement imminent. On a cold, potentially wet night, completion rates could well be the stat that settles this derby. Look after the football, win the match. It’s not always that simple, but it’s a big part of the puzzle.
Discipline. These games get feisty. Ask Andy Farrell. Ask Paul Sculthorpe. Ask anyone who was there on Good Friday 2004 – you’re never far away from boiling point on derby night. Both teams have got goal-kickers, so a lack of concentration could cost points.
Ruck speed. Another seemingly obvious one, but with so much attacking talent on the field, the team that wins the wrestle could well be the team that goes on to win the game. Any sniff of a quick play and you bet your bottom dollar that Roby and Leuluai will be sniping around the ruck looking for big yardage.
After four months away, this is the perfect fixture to reintroduce the Betfred Super League into all of our lives, and if all the stars align as it’s looking like they might, we could be in for a battle for the ages.
We cannot wait.
St Helens 19 man squad: Lomax, Makinson, Naiqama, Percival, Grace, Fages, Richardson, Walmsley, Roby, Thompson, Taia, Paulo, McCarthy-Scarsbrook, Knowles, Amor, Peyroux, Lees, Ashworth, Coote.
Wigan Warriors 19 man squad: Bullock, Clubb, Davies, Escare, Farrell, Flower, Gildart, Greenwood, Hamlin, Hardaker, Isa, Leuluai, Marshall, Naverrette, O’loughlin, Powell, Sarginson, Tautai, Williams.
Still looking for your Rugby League fix? Listen to the In-Touch Show, our brand new Rugby League Podcast now!
On the eve of the Betfred @SuperLeague season, we present our 2019 podcast. The In Touch Show – give it a listen.
Listening to “The In Touch Show – Super League Launch – Ep.1” at https://t.co/jiunzTItCu
— Betfred (@Betfred) 30 January 2019