Our 18th man columnists discuss the derby, Wigan’s form, and the controversy over the Denver Test...
The derby: how excited are you – and who do you think will win?
Sean Lawless: Good Friday derby day is my Christmas Day. The best rugby day of the year and one that has been particularly kind to Wigan over the past eight years. The nerves and sleepless nights started before the Huddersfield game for this one!
I think Wigan have the fire-power in their forwards to get into a winning position, but Ben Barba is in the kind of form that you just have to sit back and admire. I think this year will be a Good Friday draw.
Ben Reid: It’s the best week in Super League this. You can’t beat Good Friday.
Obviously, winning trophies and all that is great, but the electricity and noise that’ll be in that sold-out stadium on Friday afternoon will be unreal. I think it’s going to be a really great game of rugby league.
Both sides are going into the game in good form, while holding up the rest of the league in the table. It’s real tough to pick a winner, it really is. I always favour Wigan, but it’ll be close I feel. It could be one of the better derbies we’ve seen in a few years. I’m nervous, excited and can’t wait for the game to kick-off.
Robert Kenyon: I’m excited for this one. It will be a very close game. Unlike in previous years I genuinely think it could go either way, and that will create a proper atmosphere. Losing Alex Walmesley will take a bit of beef from their pack but having Ben Barba at fullback increases their potency in attack. Having someone like Barba playing makes me look forward to the derby like I used to in the early 2000s. Hand on heart, I think they will just edge it due to home advantage.
Darren Wrudd: I am really looking forward to this derby, with the possibility of a real humdinger of a classic on the cards.
It seems Saints have much of their hopes pinned to the heels of their new favourite Ben Barba and whilegv bv his footwork is a joy to watch, he does not stand up well to a little sturdy tackling.
Step up our forwards, time to hit out and calm down the little upstarts from over Billinge Hill. We have a fantastic defensive attitude this year and the depth in the squad is keeping everyone hungry. It bodes well and I simply cannot wait to get into them. I think a Wigan win by 12 points would do it.
David Bailey: The Good Friday game is THE game Wigan (and Saints) fans look forward to above any other (even more so than Challenge Cup and Grand Finals).
Even the return fixture later in the season doesn’t generate the same kind of interest and excitement. Perhaps it’s because it’s part of the traditional Easter double header but one thing is for certain, this is one of the most eagerly-anticipated derbies of the last few years.
Saints are currently the team to beat, the Warriors are chasing them down and amazingly a 14-point win for Wigan will see them leapfrog Saints at the top of the table, with a game in hand. So that should be plenty of motivation for Shaun Wane & co, especially considering the plaudits Saints have received so far this season, while Wigan have been quietly chalking off the wins despite not playing to their best for a full 80 minutes. My heart tells me the Warriors will triumph again as Wane seems to get the players up for this game above any other, my head’s telling me it’s too close to call...and if Barba carries on his rich vein of form, the Warriors will be in trouble.
Jon Lyon: The derby is always the highlight of my season.
No matter how well either team is doing or which players are in form or out injured, it is easily the most anticipated fixture of the year. A couple of weeks ago I would have assumed Saints were favourites with most people as they have started the season really well. But their only other real test they lost at home to Leeds, so maybe they’re not in as good a shape as it first appears.
Add to that the long-term loss of Alex Walmsley and Wigan’s excellent form against Huddersfield and I’m far more confident going into this derby. We also have our eight Good Friday match-winning streak and Shaun Wane’s determination to always perform for the Easter fixtures so I’m confident we can sneak this one.
Who impressed you in the win against Huddersfield?
Sean Lawless: The one person who has been consistently playing well, without perhaps the recognition is Sam Powell. He had another excellent game on Friday against Huddersfield and he is excelling at both 7 and 9 during the “switcheroo”. His vision and execution of his early kick for Tom Davies’ second try was exceptional. Sam Tomkins continues to show his class this year and although he isn’t getting the number of tries he did earlier in his career, he is creating as many tries as ever, with seven assist so far this season.
Ben Reid: There was a fair few who played well on Friday night, it was a real solid performance. Tom Davies got man of the match in the stadium, for his two tries. But you could argue a few more names could’ve had it. I thought our forwards where superb, Ryan Sutton in particular. He got a well-deserved try, and made a great impression from the bench, after Ben Flower had already put a great shift in from the get go.
The halves kicked superbly, the forwards made great yards and the attacks are finally starting to look like the sort of rugby we want. Fluent, varied and all round impossible to defend against at times.
Robert Kenyon: Most of the team. I was impressed with Leuluai’s distribution from 9, Sam Powell is playing very well at 7, George Williams is playing well at 6. Tom Davies continues to show his class. Ben Flower again showed how good he is, probably the most underrated prop in Super League. I’m surprised NRL clubs haven’t been in for Benny. Sam Tomkins played well but so did Morgan Escare, Waney must be having headaches thinking of who to pick.
Darren Wrudd: Our new style of play this year is now gaining momentum and the impressive display against an admittedly poor Huddersfield side, showed some superb flair and skills.
While the forwards let little upset them and kept up their enthusiastic efforts long after the game was won, my eye was taken by two lads out the back. Morgan Escare is running himself into the right positions on set plays and gaps just present themselves to him, a sign of a good understanding of the game. But for me, Sam Powell was simply outstanding. Reminding me of one Andy Gregory as he opened up the field and controlled our position with well positioned kicks and a wonderful running style, Sam stood out as coming back to his best at his best position – in the halves.
David Bailey: Although the win against Huddersfield turned into a routine victory, there are still a few things that will need fixing ahead of Good Friday. The Giants try came from an over-elaborate pass from Sam Tomkins and, with all due respect, Saints backline has far more about it than the Giants. Willie Isa looks like a different player this season, Escare looked lively when he came on and the forwards laid a good platform. Sam Tomkins continues to show maturity and influence in games as he modifies his style. However, Tom Davies excelled on the right with a couple of classy finishes and brilliant workrate. Considering at the beginning of last season he was probably fourth-choice winger he has come on in leaps and bounds. It will take a lot to dislodge him from that right-wing slot.
Jon Lyon: It’s hard to find anyone who didn’t impress against Huddersfield, it was an excellent performance all round. I thought Sam Powell had his best game so far this season, which in turn allowed George Williams to be back towards his creative best.
John Bateman was his usual busy self in attack and defence. I would probably have given the man of the match to Ben Flower for his brutal defence and determined running with the ball, he seemed to go looking for work non-stop and was a major reason we kept Huddersfield on the back foot.
What do you think about NRL bosses’ ‘concerns’ about England’s Test with New Zealand in Denver?
Sean Lawless: The NRL’s concerns over player welfare are both misguided and ignorant. Their ignorance to the international game is perhaps the single biggest obstacle to the growth of the international game. A fantastic venture to Denver, encouraging the growth of rugby league is being halted by the same people that don’t mind players playing an NRL game a couple of days after an Origin game. It’s time the RFL stood up to the NRL and ensure this game takes place.
Ben Reid: It’s absolutely shocking. I don’t feel like there’ll be as good an opportunity than this to promote and help our game in the US, it’s a real chance for our sport to grown over there, and the NRL are ruining it.
I honestly wish we’d just leave them behind and go it alone with those who want to do it. Someone in some real sort of authority at the RFL should call out the NRL and demand answers – real answers.
There’s no way we should let this one go, we need to stand on our own two feet and go for it.
They’re trying to sabotage their own sport, just to help and preserve their own business, it’s a joke, and it shouldn’t be ignored.
Robert Kenyon: The NRL are only interested in the NRL, they aren’t interested in expansion and to be honest I don’t blame them.
Why should they allow some of their best players go and play a meaningless game in the middle of nowhere? Who the hell picked Denver?
If you were going to take an international game to the Americas take it to Toronto for goodness sake!
At least when you generate interest there is a team already there playing so the fans that enjoyed the spectacle can get behind a team and watch them on a regular basis. Whereas playing a game in Denver and then disappearing will be a waste of time. It will be nice for the players and a good experience but a waste of time and money. I don’t blame the NRL at all.
Darren Wrudd: I know that we earned a nickname from the Aussies as whingers, but have you ever heard such a moaning, cry baby lot as they are?
Claiming things like the altitude will adversely affect the players, they will be asking us to go easy on their little princesses next! Perhaps if we let them wear sticky tape on their fingers so they don’t drop the ball or agree that we will all wear inflatable sumo suits so we don’t risk them breaking a nail it will be enough to placate them.
Good grief, it’s obvious that they do not value the international game at all but are happy picking up our players when they fancy. They need to be put in their place and told to shut up and get on with it.
David Bailey: I often wonder sometimes what thought processes go through rugby league administrators. How on earth can it only come to light now that the RL players’ association and the NRL have doubts about the safety and feasibility of playing this game in Denver?
I don’t know the ins and outs and maybe I am doing them a disservice but surely these conversations should have been had at the very outset and once again the international game looks amateurish.
With the hard work done in Toronto this was an ideal chance to get some investors on board and try and further the game in the as yet untapped North American market but as always something off the field takes the column inches and not in a good way. Part of me though thinks that the NRL is too big for its boots. Yes it’s currently the pinnacle of the game but it needs to realise the game won’t be there if they continue to ignore the other nations, putting their own competition and the State of Origin first.
Jon Lyon: Sadly it’s par for the course for the NRL to treat international rugby with disdain. It’s certainly NRL as first, second and third priority before they think about anyone else.
It’s hard to see anything changing without drastic action. I wouldn’t be averse to hosting future international tournaments without them, although that would undoubtedly impact on the attraction of sponsors and fans.
It’s hard to tell if they would even be bothered about that as they seem happy to stay in their little NRL/State of Origin cocoon.
The only hope is that the Aussie players would have something to say about not being able to represent their country anymore. They certainly need to be shown that Australia is not the be all and end all of rugby league.