Hull FC v Wigan: Measure of a high stakes thriller
Stakes are high as Warriors travel to the end of the M62 tonight.
Beat Hull and climb into the top four.
A win would put the champions level on points with the black and whites, but Wigan’s superior points difference would see them wriggle into the play-off places with two Super 8s games left – not bad considering they had five points to make up following the round one loss to Leeds at the start of August.
Admittedly, the stakes aren’t nearly as high as when the sides last met – a fortnight ago in the Challenge Cup Final.
And although Wigan bounced back last week with a slick 26-16 win over arch-rivals St Helens, assistant coach John Winder says lessons learned from Wembley need to be taken into account at the KCOM Stadium tonight.
“There were a couple of lessons we learned, we need to finish our sets better,” he said.
“They weren’t at their best. And our ball retention wasn’t good enough. If we can fix those two things and continue to develop what we did on Friday night we’ll give ourselves a good chance.”
As well as finishing sets better, a priority for Wigan will also be to ensure Hull, looking to bounce back from last week’s 38-26 loss at Leeds, don’t manage the same.
Marc Sneyd, Lance Todd Trophy winner at Wembley, helped Hull to two of their tries in the final from his kicks, and also frequently pegged the Warriors back with a kicking game which included a 40-20.
“Lots of factors lead to a successful outcome from a kick – winning the plays before it, have they got momentum, kicking on the front foot is a lot better than the back foot,” Winder explained.
“We’ve practised some things to try and nullify that threat like not allowing them momentum on plays three and four because, if you do, on play five he’s on the front foot, and he’s very good at getting himself into a position when he’s got time.
“But we’ve got strategies we hope will help us deal with that better.
“Last plays determine the successful outcomes of big games, how we manage ours and theirs will have a big bearing on the game.”
Looking at this season’s results could give the impression Hull have the measure of their opponents, with two league wins of 22-20 and 39-26 to go with their Cup Final win over Wigan.
But Winder feels differently, and points out the differences from each game – including but not limited to the fact Wigan’s starting lineups for the two league games between the sides so far contained eight changes.
“It would be easy to say, ‘they’ve got the three results this year’, but the three circumstances are different, and even the three teams are vastly different to each other,” he said.
“The team at the DW was different to the team at the KC, which was totally different at Wembley. The nature of the games, too – the Challenge Cup Final was a different type of game.
“Sometimes there is something in those runs, but I don’t think there is on this occasion.
“Their display at Leeds was really good, they had a dig and if a couple of things had gone their way they could have got the result.”
In Wigan’s favour as well is the time of year.
As nights close in and Old Trafford comes onto the horizon, the champions have a habit of clicking for the Grand Final push.
With five wins from their past seven league games, Warriors are starting to piece together some encouraging form, illustrated neatly by last week’s performance at the Totally Wicked Stadium.
“In the last few weeks we’ve been building and improving, I think we’ve been playing some good stuff,” said Winder.
“I feel we’re growing and we’ve got some momentum, but I’m sure Lee Radford feels the same; it’s about the performance on the night.
“Our first two tries against St Helens typified our performance. The first was a slick attacking sequence and the second on the back of some aggressive defence.
“If you start games in that manner, playing well on both sides of the ball, you’ve got a great chance.
“The resilience they showed, when momentum went against us, was outstanding.”