Milestones have been coming thick and fast for Oliver Gildart.
Friday was his 50th game for Wigan, Sunday was his 21st birthday, and later this month the player who already has a Grand Final ring and World Club Challenge medal on his Wikipedia page is set to play in his first Challenge Cup Final.
The centre, now in his third season in the side, said: “It doesn’t seem that long ago when I was making my debut, to reach 50 games already feels mad.
“Sometimes I feel older than I am because I’ve played in some big games, and there’s Wembley later this month, and hopefully it sets me in good stead for the rest of my career.”
Before Wembley is Huddersfield, at the DW Stadium tonight – a game which has taken on a semi-final feeling, given the losers will, probably, have their top-four hopes extinguished.
Both sides are four points of the vital fourth spot, with six rounds to go of the Super-8s.
“Wembley is exciting, but given the position we’re in in the league, we’ve got work to do,” said Gildart.
“It’s not like we’re on top. It’s not a good feeling, usually we’re up there and everything is a bit more relaxed.”
Wigan and Huddersfield can’t be split by points on the table, and there’s been nothing between them this year, with a 16-16 tie earlier this season followed by a 19-19 draw at the end of June.
Since then, they have equal records in the league – three wins and two defeats – though Wigan also have a Challenge Cup semi-final victory under their belts.
Rick Stone’s Giants recovered from their poor early-season form to secure a place in the top eight before the season split into the Super-8s.
“They started poor but they’re really firing now,” said Gildart.
“They complete well, get to the end of their sets, and we can’t give them penalties and errors. Danny Brough’s kicking game is phenomenal and a big focus for us is on stopping him getting those kicks away.”
Last time out, Jermaine McGillvary and his centre Leroy Cudjoe played key roles for the Giants, and Gildart admits he and his winger – Joe Burgess – have huge tasks on their hands.
“They’re the big two,” he said. “They get their sets going for them, and if you give Cudjoe a bit of space, he’s hard to handle.”
After a limp display in a 32-16 loss at Huddersfield last week, a big emphasis has been put on increasing the aggression of Wigan’s defence.
Shaun Wane took the players to a wrestling pit at the start of the week to try and bring the fire back to their tackle technique.
Gildart said: “We were all embarrassed last week, our defence is something we pride ourselves on and we need to get back to our ways. Personally, wrestling has been massive for me.
“Because I’m not the biggest bloke, I often play against players who are 10 or 15kgs heavier – like Cudjoe – and so I need the techniques. It’s part of the game I enjoy.”
Tonight’s non-televised match will be followed by a reserve game at St Helens tomorrow in which winger Dom Manfredi will mark his return from a knee injury after a year on the sidelines.
Gildart added: “I’m buzzing to see Dom back.
“Some people forget how good he is, he was our best player by a mile last year and it’s great to see him back.
I was out for a few months with my back injury and it killed me – to be out for a year, and handle it the way he has, I’ve got a lot of respect for him.”
Wigan’s 19-man squad: Bateman, Burgess, Clubb, Davies, Farrell, Gelling, Gildart, Isa, Leuluai, Marshall, Mcilorum, Nuuausala, O’Loughlin, Powell, Sutton, Tautai, S Tomkins, Wells, Williams.
Huddersfield’s 19-man squad: McGillvary, Cudjoe, Gaskell, Danny Brough, Hinchcliffe, Wakeman, Lawrence, Leeming, Ikahihifo, Ta’ai, Clough, Mason, Smith, Dickinson, McIntosh, Mellor, O’Brien, Turner, Rankin.