Isa confident of Super 8s resurgence
For many fans going over the Pennines tonight, this is a big one.
Leeds away has always been a favourite and for good reason.
Headingley is a great ground to visit -traditional but in good nick - the atmosphere is always great in the away end and nine times out of 10 there is a brutal match taking place with a close scoreline to dial up the tension.
And tonight’s clash will be more significant for Warriors fans. A win will provide a stepladder to those play-off spots which are just out of reach, while defeat will make Wigan’s job of reaching the last four even harder.
Mix in Leeds’ Challenge Cup semi-final defeat last weekend and 34-0 loss to Wigan the week before (admittedly with a weakened side) and it would be fair to expect a Rhinos backlash.
It’s a fact not lost on Willie Isa, who insists he has had no problem shelving early thoughts of Wembley after Warriors’ semi-final win over Salford.
“There are important games before then,” he said when asked about the final.
“I think the celebrations stopped after Sunday to be honest because we’ve put ourselves in a position where we can’t afford to give games up.
“It’s an important week for us.
“We’re in a similar boat to Leeds in that we’ve both had Challenge Cup games and it’s going to be similar preparation. It’s important for us to get ourselves right and look forward to Friday. But personally I find it pretty easy (to put Wembley to the back of his mind).
“As a team I think our coaches do well well with us, keeping our heads right and focus on the job in hand.”
Second-placed Leeds are looking to capitalise on their four-point start on fifth-placed Wakefield in the scramble for a play-off place, and they also have a proud recent record against Wigan at home to preserve.
The last time Wigan won at Headingley was a 50-8 success in June, 2012, but even having not experienced a win there for the Warriors, for Isa these games are a highlight.
“Even before I came to the club they’ve been big games between Wigan and Leeds - I’m just happy I’m part of it,” he said.
“You don’t need motivation to get up for these kind of games. It’s already there for us to go out there and showcase what we’ve got.
“I enjoy playing there. It’s two big full packs going at each other and that’s the way it is - pure rugby league.
“There’s nothing different, it’s two dominant packs trying to put their foot forward. I just call it rugby league.”
But beneath the action, Warriors have to make sure they don’t let the teams above them break away as the Super 8s progress.
Isa admits Wigan haven’t performed well in patches this season, but the Kiwi is also confident of a resurgence.
“I think we’ve put a lot of pressure on ourselves. We put ourselves in this situation and we have to get ourselves out of it,” he said.
“We know realistically we haven’t been playing well during the season and obviously there are other factors that come into that.
“Tables don’t lie. We know we’re seventh and have to do a job. I look at it that way.
“Personally I think we will be fine if we concentrate on our progression each game.”
The progression Isa points to is already evident in that Warriors have taken either a win or a draw in six of their last seven games in league and Cup. In that time, an early-season injury crisis has eased, and Isa believes as the recently-returned stars get up to speed there will be more improvement ahead.
“The more games we have together with the boys coming back from injury, people forget Batty (John Bateman) has only played around six games, Sam Tomkins is the same, we’ll be better,” he said.
“It takes time for boys to gel a bit.
“Go back to the training paddock, the more we train together, get combinations together and get used to each other a bit more, we’ll be alright.”