SHAUN Wane is expecting the toughest derby of his coaching career tonight as St Helens face pressure to put distance between themselves and their play-off rivals.
Wigan need to pick up the points on offer to reclaim their place at the top of Super League following Huddersfield’s defeat of Castleford yesterday but Wane thinks the pressure is on Saints.
Michael McIlorum has recovered from knee trouble to be fit to play but skipper Sean O’Loughlin and Man of Steel Sam Tomkins will watch from the sidelines.
“All the players understand how important it is. They are our arch rivals and this is probably the biggest derby in the game,” said Wane.
“Saints’ home form and league positions aren’t very good but all that goes out the window when it’s Wigan v Saints.
“It doesn’t matter where we are in the competition and it means so much to everybody that we have a good performance.”
Wane is expecting St Helens to be fighting not only to address their home form this season but also the derby record since Wane moved into the first team from the academy set-up.
“Our record since I’ve been involved in the first team has been fantastic. We won the last derby at Knowsley Road and the first at Langtree Park and we’ve had some great results against them but that means nothing – this is a one off game,” Wane said. “They will be trying hard to make sure they get one of their best home wins of the season and we will be going there looking for a good performance ahead of the Challenge Cup semi-final the week after.”
Despite Wane being in charge to oversee the successful mission of taking the spoils in the first derby at Saints’ new Langtree Park home, he will never be satisfied with past achievements unless his side remain competitive against the Warriors’ fiercest rivals.
“They will never get the first game back,” he said.
“The fact is we won the first game there and that’s the way it is – that will never change.
“No matter who won that first game, I want to win every game against St Helens and Nathan Brown will want to win every game against Wigan.
“It’s got the makings of a fantastic game.”
Ahead of Saturday’s Challenge Cup semi-final against London Broncos, Wane is happy with such a tough fixture despite the short turnaround as it maintains a high level of intensity within the camp.
“It’s useful to have a good arm-wrestle against a top team than play against a lower side,” he said.
“It will make us battle-hardened for what will be a tough game on Saturday.”
Tonight’s clash pits Wane against Saints coach Nathan Brown and Wane admires the coaching style of his opposite number.
“He’s a good coach and I like how he works. His team play really good rugby so I always enjoy coaching against him,” Wane said.
“A lot of the local lads speak up and talk about what it means to us to win these games.
“They understand the rivalry but St Helens have players like that such as Paul Wellens and even though James Roby isn’t playing he will have had his influence on their squad this week.
“But as long as we compete for everything then I’m happy.
“I want us to be competitive and aggressive.”