ADRIAN Morley has been nominated as the biggest threat to Wigan’s chances of glory tonight.
Coach Shaun Wane is a huge admirer of many of Warrington’s players and reckons their showdown at the DW Stadium has all the makings of a classic.
But he doesn’t hesitate to single out 50-capped veteran front-rower Morley as the man they must put the shackles on.
Wane said: “They’ve got some great players, but Morley is the stand-out for me.
“If there is one person I’d have loved to have coached it’s him. I’m a massive fan of his.
“I like his mentality and approach. When I had juniors props coming through, I’d describe the perfect front-rower and I’d look at him.
“If he plays well, Warrington play well, and they’ve got enough quality in their side to get alarm bells ringing when they have the ball, so we need to target him and pressure him. He’s not 22 any more but he still runs hard, he still belts people, he’s still effective.”
Warriors stand-off Brett Finch played alongside the former Leeds man at Sydney Roosters – and has fond memories of lining up alongside him.
“I joined the Roosters after they’d won the ‘02 Grand Final and they had the most feared pack in the competition.
“We had some good players in there, like Craig Fitzgibbon and Luke Ricketson, and Moz led that pack, he was great.
“When you play as a half-back, with him in front of you bashing blokes, it makes you feel bullet-proof. You’d let him go and soften players up and then we’d start playing after that! It was like playing in a dinner suit.
“You also knew that if you got taken out late, he’d square the bloke up with the next tackle, and I can’t tell you how much of a lift that gives the team.
“He’s certainly one of the toughest I’ve ever played with and to continue doing it over a long period of time is phenomenal.”
Morley has curtained his aggressive streak as he’s got older, but Finch says he has just as much influence on matches – and points to his performance in the last meeting between the sides.
Wigan, fresh from their Challenge Cup Final triumph, were thumped 39-12 with Morley playing a starring role, despite weeks out with an eye injury.
“He came back after a long lay off and he blew us apart that day,” says Finch. “He literally tore us apart with the ball and without, he led their enthusiasm and aggression and gave us a lesson that day.
“The way he’s going he could go ‘til he’s 40. He’s a freak.” The winners of the derby at the DW will leapfrog leaders Huddersfield, at least for 48 hours, striking a psychological blow against one of their main title rivals.
“We missed a golden opportunity against Widnes a fortnight ago, when we let ourselves down there,” said Finch.
“Even though it’s early in the season and probably won’t have a bearing on what happens at the end of season, it would be good for our confidence to get a win against a strong team like Warrington.”
Wigan got back to winning ways following their shock defeat at Widnes but Finch admitted they will need to improve on Sunday’s 42-30 triumph over London Broncos.
“It was good to get back in the winners’ circle,” the half-back said. “We probably didn’t play that well.
“Our defence is one thing we weren’t happy with. We need to improve that area. We’ve been pretty poor the last fortnight.
“To concede 30 points back to back is not good enough for us and Shaun certainly let his feelings known to us.
“If we leak 30 points against Warrington, that’s as good as the game over. They’re a quality side and they’ve been the benchmark in the competition for probably the last 18 months. We see it as a real good challenge to see where we’re at.
“They love to throw the ball around and they’ll attack from anywhere on the field so it should certainly be a good spectacle from a fans’ point of view.”
Wane is expected to stick with the same line-up which beat London.
And he says the anticipation during the week has really whet the players’ appetite for this contest.
He said: “Sunday games can lack atmosphere but under the floodlights, a big crowd – it has the makings of a great game.
“That’s certainly not an excuse for the way we played against London. If I thought we need atmosphere to perform, then there’s something wrong. But it does add something when it’s a big Friday game and, for some reason, we do tend to perform better in night matches.
“Our players are definitely ready for it. Warrington are one of the top teams in the competition and this’ll be full on.
“We can score points, that’s not a concern for me. Our defence has to be on top – we know that if we don’t concentrate they can burn us.”
By last night more than 20,000 tickets had already been sold – already ensuring it’s the biggest Super League crowd so far this season.
The South Stand has completely sold out.