Wigan Warriors Vs St Helens: All Or Nothing Clash Already Feels Like It Could Be Special

The arch enemies clash in the Betfred Challenge Cup semi-final on Saturday
21:05, 06 May 2022

These are games drenched in theatre, physicality, and hatred. 

St Helens have proved they can handle the big occasion, according to head coach Kristian Woolf, and the Betfred Challenge Cup holders now bid to stifle Wigan's advances in a much-hyped semi-final.

The arch enemies clashed in Super League on Good Friday with champions Saints coming out on top. They will go at it once more in front of the BBC cameras for the right to contest the showpiece event at Tottenham in three weeks’ time. 

Wigan have made no secret of their ambition to hunt down this all-conquering Saints side who won every trophy last year, including a first Challenge Cup since 2008.

“If we can chase them down and prevent them from winning any trophy that would be one of the best things ever,” Wigan prop Brad Singleton told me recently.

And Saints are on their guard to ensure that does not happen, according to Woolf, ahead of this mouth-watering semi-final, at a vocal, neutral Elland Road venue.

“Our players will thrive on the derby emotion,” Woolf told The Sportsman.

Kristian Woolf
Kristian Woolf

“It is a Cup semi-final first and foremost at a great stadium. The hard work is to get here for these opportunities. Being Wigan makes it a bigger game, for us and the crowd. The Good Friday game created a derby atmosphere and if we get that this weekend it will be a great occasion and will bring the best out of our players who have proved they can handle it.”

Wigan have been flying in Super League, emerging as the most realistic challengers to dethrone their all-conquering neighbours. And the Warriors have also been very open about that ambition to chase down Saints as soon as possible. 

“They are the benchmark, we are the challengers, and we are going to chase them, we will chase them hard,” Wigan’s St Helens born assistant coach Lee Briers told The Sportsman.

Wigan’s head coach Matt Peet, at 38 the youngest boss in Super League, was an ardent fan during the club’s glory days of eight successive Cup wins in the 80s and 90s. “I remember the shops being dressed in cherry and white and players coming into schools with the trophy,” he says. “That’s the sort of stuff we are trying to create in the town again.”

Woolf though insists his Saints players remain unflappable, both in the face of this fierce challenge from Wigan, and under the pressure of performing on this big stage, with a big prize at stake, in front of a big audience.

“It is about enjoying the week,” says the outwardly-intense but inwardly laid-back Queenslander. “Staying relaxed and not playing the game too early. We need to get to the game and use our emotions in the right way and have that energy to bring to the game. This group of players know how to get the job done, know what it takes in terms of handling pressure and what the game can throw at you. I have full confidence that whoever we put on the field will give themselves the best chance.”

Saints are without their in-form young half-back Lewis Dodd to long-term injury but hope to have Jonny Lomax back, while Wigan’s hopes will again centre on lightning full-back Jai Field, the player of the season so far. 

“We need to make sure we don’t get too caught up on one player (Field),” Woolf adds of the likely main threat. “We need to bring our defence at its best and when we defend really well we are really hard to score against. I think it is more about what we bring.

Even when one of the two rivals is struggling, the fixture is an appointment to watch. 

But with both sides starting to hit the heights, this all-or-nothing contest already feels like it could be pretty special. 

Wigan want Saints’ blood. Woolf hopes his side can stay cool enough to fend off their advances.

Betfred Wigan Warriors vs St. Helens Match Odds*

*18+ | BeGambleAware

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