Opponents: St Helens
Venue: Totally Wicked Stadium (J)
A look at the Opposition
A week off, Ben Barba making his debut and playing at home – it looks ominous for Wigan. Coupled with the crushing effect of losing a Wembley Cup final six days earlier. St Helens before their defeat to Leeds and Hull, were starting to look like the real deal again and the progress they have made since Good Friday is testament to their new coach.
Matty Smith has been, when free from injury, the halfback us Wigan fans that liked him, knew he could be. If anything, Marc Sneyd’s performance in the Challenge Cup compared to Wigan’s kicking game, highlighted just how important Matty Smith was in the past three years for Wigan and just how underrated he was by some Wigan fans.
Last time out, it was the St Helens kicking game that edged the match in their direction, including the late winner in which Percival beat Lewis Tierney to the ball. I would like to say that Wigan’s kick defence has improved since then, but take a look at the tries Wigan have conceded in the last three weeks – if anything, its got worse!
One area of the St Helens team that is unknown to us all, is their middle combinations. With Ben Barba pretty much confirmed to be starting at full back, that leaves a likely halfback combination of Matty Smith and Johnny Lomax. That leaves a decision to be made regarding Danny Richardson, who came off the bench against Leeds to score a great try (who has since been left out of the 19 man squad). The other question is, who plays at 13 with Justin Holbrook mentioning Theo Fages as a potential for that role, that could be an interesting match up – SOL v Fages. A new middle partnership which on paper could be very special, but will they gel in game one. I think identifying this as an opportunity for Wigan, is the very definition of clutching at straws?!
The St Helens 19 Man Squad:
1. Jonny Lomax, 2. Tommy Makinson, 3. Ryan Morgan, 4. Mark Percival, 6. Theo Fages, 7. Matty Smith, 8. Alex Walmsley, 9. James Roby, 10. Kyle Amor, 12. Jon Wilkin, 13. Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook, 14. Luke Douglas, 16. Luke Thompson, 18. Dominique Peyroux, 20. Morgan Knowles, 28. Regan Grace, 32. Matty Lees, 36. Zeb Taia, 37. Ben Barba.
Wigan 19 Man Squad:
Wigan replace Tom Davies, who cruelly missed on a Wembley final even though he was named in the starting 17 and Joel Tomkins, with Jack Wells and Nick Gregson.
Thoughts on the Game
After the last few years, or even since the cup final was moved to August, teams struggle after the final. The emotion of the event, whether you win or lose, the size of the pitch and the actual intensity of the game all have an effect. That with the fact St Helens have had a week off and bring in their NRL superstar, Ben Barba – I cant see past a St Helens win.
I would love to think that Wigan will be inspired by their defeat on Saturday and that they produce a mesmerising performance that moves them into the top four and my heart says they will but my head says they won’t.Embed from Getty Images
Wigan need to somehow, get the energy and belief that they had last September, when they put a run together to get a semi final place and a Grand Final spot. Starting against Hull, followed up by a win with 12 men against Warrington. Those two games installed enough belief into the players and fans alike that they could win the Super League and of course, they did.
Technically, a defeat on Friday doesn’t ends Wigan’s top four chances, however realistically it does. It really is an all or nothing game, win – and they could be inspired to go to Hull next week and put a good run together. Another defeat, after the cup final will be demoralising, especially for the fans and I think it would be a case of the fat lady very much warming up her vocal cords…
One player that could rise to the occasion, or so I am hoping so, is Sam Tomkins. The attention is very much going to be on Ben Barba but a bit of Tomkins Magic to take the attention away from his new opposition number would be well timed for Wigan!Embed from Getty Images
Looking at the 19 man squad, my Wigan line up for Friday would be:
The Wigan Rugby Blog predicts:
Score: St Helens 6 – 10 Wigan (I have to hope!)
First Try Scorer: Sam Tomkins
This Season’s Games: