In his first season as head coach, Shaun Wane endeared himself to the Wigan fans - and raised eyebrows elsewhere - by describing St Helens as the “arch enemy who we absolutely detest”.
Ahead of the Warriors’ first league derby against Leigh Centurions tonight, some may have expected similar remarks from the proud Wiganer.
When you look at the players they’ve got, they have a lot of games under their belt so we need to meet fire with fireShaun Wane
“The two sets of fans don’t like each other but the senior management and staff have a lot of respect for each other,” said Wane.
“Some people like to invent this hatred between us, but there isn’t any.”
Centurions coach Neil Jukes has followed a similar coaching path to Wane, starting out in the amateur ranks - with Ince Rose Bridge - and working his way up the ladder at the club he now coaches.
“He has definitely earned his stripes, he’s worked his way through, and he’s shown he has the respect of his players,” said Wane, who began coaching with his former junior club, St Pat’s.
“They all want to win for him.
“He’s a good guy, he’s coaching them well - they’re playing a great brand of rugby - so I understand the challenge in front of us.”
Leigh chalked off their first win back in Super League last weekend, toppling St Helens 24-16.
Wane predicted at the start of the year they had the personnel to earn a spot in the top-eight - before the season splits after round-23 - and has seen enough to convince him they can pose a threat this year.
“They are a very good team,” he said.
“They’ve made some good signings - when they get some injuries, it will test them like it tests all teams, but certainly they have got a good first 20 (players).
“When you look at the players they’ve got, they have a lot of games under their belt so we need to meet fire with fire, especially in the opening period.
“They were very aggressive against St Helens, and did the damage in the first 20 minutes when they took a lot of juice out of Saints.”
Wigan are seeking a fourth straight win, with Super League victories against Salford and Widnes sandwiching the historic triumph against Cronulla in the World Club Challenge.
“We’ve not played unbelievably well,” said Wane. “I’m happy with the three wins, we played for 15 minutes against Widnes but got the win.
“When we were behind, the message was clear - keep hold of the ball, we score tries.”
Wigan trailed 26-12 before launching a four-try comeback, in a game played at Widnes after a late switch of grounds.
“It was unusual and something I’ve not experienced before - we were playing, not playing, playing again... it was quite weird but we dealt with it quite well,” said Kiwi halfback Thomas Leuluai.
“I thought we did well to get back into it, we didn’t deserve to win it really.”
Leuluai is looking forward to his first Wigan-Leigh league derby.
“They’ve got a great set of fans who really get behind them, our fans do too,” said Leuluai, who will face his former Wigan team-mates Gareth Hock and Harrison Hansen.
“Gaz plays it hard and physical, and he’s good player - we need to look after him.
“And I still speak to Harrison. He was a great player for us and he’s playing some good football.
“He was one of our leaders - to be honest, it’s been weird seeing him in the Leigh shirt.”