DARRELL Goulding is looking forward to the return of one of Wigan’s crown jewels at Hull KR this weekend.
Thomas Leuluai is pencilled in for a long-awaited comeback at Craven Park after two-and-a-half months out with knee ligament damage.
In Leuluai’s absence, Warriors have remained top of the Super League but have not hit the heights of the first half of the campaign.
They were thrashed at Warrington in a battle of the top two three weeks ago, and were dumped out of the Challenge Cup at the hands of Leeds last month.
But the return of Leuluai will give the Warriors a ‘massive’ lift at a crucial stage of the season, according to Goulding.
“Tommy is massive for us,” admitted Goulding.
“He’s one of those players who is rated so highly by many but he’s still under-rated in the game.
“You ask the players how important he is to the team – fans see with Sam (Tomkins)what he does, but Tommy is equally important with what he does.
“It’s the subtle things that sometimes can go unnoticed, but then when he’s gone and you’re covering for him you realise what he brings to the team.”
Warriors have signed Matty Smith from Salford during Leuluai’s lay-off, with one eye on how they’ll manage the transition when the Kiwi returns to New Zealand at the end of the year.
And Goulding is looking forward to seeing how the pair link-up at half-back.
“We’ve got two games to build something before the play-offs,” Goulding added.
“Matty’s done well to come in and, with Tommy back, it’ll give us more options.
“We’ve had some games with Hull KR in recent years – sometimes they’re hit and miss.
“But when they’re at their best they’re very good.”
Wigan go into the game knowing victory will secure the League Leaders Shield with one round to spare.
And they’ll be boosted by having a week off because of last weekend’s Challenge Cup final.
Warriors didn’t have that luxury last year, when they went all the way to Wembley before running out of steam in the play-offs.
Goulding hopes they’ll see the benefit this year, adding: “People don’t realise how much the preparation for Wembley takes out emotionally,” he added.
“You’re so geared up for the final and it’s hard to maintain that intensity.
“Not many teams have managed it and we’re all disappointed we didn’t get there this time.
“But if there’s a positive, we can hopefully refresh, get back to our best and find some momentum going into the play-offs.”