Warrington v Wigan: Five key battles

Ben Flower in action against Warrington - he has a big role to play
Ben Flower in action against Warrington - he has a big role to play

Here are five key battles to look out for in tonight’s showdown at the HJ Stadium...

Liam Farrell v Jack Hughes

These two players have more in common that their position on the pitch and the colour of their hair.

They are both the type of players who are rated by fans, but really rated by players (Hughes received Man of Steel votes from some Wigan players).

After a year on loan at Huddersfield, Hughes has flourished at the Wolves alongside Kurt Gidley.

The 2013 double-winner was effectively nudged out the door at his hometown club to make way for John Bateman, so he has more reason than most to impress against the Warriors.

Farrell has returned from a serious rib injury and is now finding his feet again. He may not be the biggest or fastest forward, but he is blessed with an engine which would make Lewis Hamilton purr, as well as skills and the experience of playing for England.

John Bateman v Ben Currie

As Shaun Wane eluded to earlier this week, this head-to-head battle could be part-audition for the England team.

Both young, both in-form, both exceptional players... both Man of Steel contenders?

That remains to be seen, but both are keen to win a spot in Wayne Bennett’s second-row.

Bateman played at centre against New Zealand last year, while Currie was in the squad but didn’t win a cap.

The form of both these players has gone up a notch this year, and their head-to-head battle should provide an intriguing subplot in a fixture which rarely disappoints.

Kurt Gidley v Matty Smith

Yes, Gidley is a stand-off, and so is George Williams.

But it is on the right-side where Gidley mainly operates - directly opposite Matty Smith, who controls Wigan’s left.

Neither player are razzmatazz - their halfback partners, injured Chris Sandow and Williams provide more individual breakthroughs - but they are huge cogs in their teams.

Expect these playmakers to take on the lion’s share of their side’s kicking - at goal and in open-play - they will also be relied up on for their organisational skills.

Gidley, a former Newcastle Knights captain, has provided guile to the Wolves side, while Smith’s value was underlined best by his recent absence - the Warriors were rudderless in defeat against Widnes.

Chris Hill v Ben Flower

The likes of Daryl Clark, Stefan Ratchford and Matty Russell can be devastating in broken play. And a lot of their chances come off the back of the unheralded work made by Chris Hill - another Wiganer - in the middle of the park.

A barrel-chested prop with strong leg-drive, Hill has a great ability to win the collisions - he pokes through the defence, lands on his front and wins quick play-the-balls for his side.

Little wonder his name is often spoken about in high-esteem by the Wigan players. To combat this, the Warriors need to put bodies in his path to slow him down and this is where Ben Flower - a compact, agile and brave prop - has a crucial role to play.

Flower’s direct, foot-to-the-metal drives should also help his team progress up field... before the in-form Taulima Tautai comes off the bench. Tautai has been one of Wigan’s best players this season, certainly their most-improved, but had a poor game in his outing at the HJ. With his parents over from Australia, he will surely be keen to make amends.

Ryan Atkins v Anthony Gelling

Both these players have previous for being erratic, but have shown a greater level of consistency this year and are big strike players for their sides. Gelling’s hat-trick against St Helens last month supported his coach’s view that he is the best, and certainly most damaging, centre in Super League. In the battle of the three-quarters, Atkins and Gelling will be players to watch.

There was a temptation to put Stefan Ratchford and Sam Tomkins in this list, but they can make their mark without coming into direct contact; Tomkins is dangerous most when he chimes into the attack, while Ratchford - another former St Pat’s junior - can wreak havoc in broken play.