The 18th man column: '˜My heart says Wigan, my head says Saints'

Our 18th man columnists give their derby predictions and talk Ben Barba and the battle to avoid the Qualifiers...
Ben Barba is in the box seat for the Man of SteelBen Barba is in the box seat for the Man of Steel
Ben Barba is in the box seat for the Man of Steel

Wigan-Saints - who do you think will win?

Darren Wrudd: I really dislike this question as who I think will win and want to win are for once not the same answer. I cannot see beyond a St Helens win and I hope that the Wigan players read this and prove me wrong. Saints have been consistent this year with few notable injuries. That seems to be the key to winning the Shield these days. A little bad luck and several key players sidelined and any team can struggle in a competition which is so close at the top that small percentages can make all the difference. Derby day is anybody’s and whoever wants it most usually ends up on top. So I cannot write off our chances, but it would need to be against expectations based on current form.

Ben Reid: Head says Saints, heart says Wigan. I don’t know what to expect from Wigan lately, I really don’t. We showed such character and desire to beat Warrington. We were down on numbers, battered and bruised - but kept fighting to the end.

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Then we go and put in a performance like that against Huddersfield just a few days later. It’s been the same all season. Losses against Hull KR, Wakefield, and now that one against the Giants. I don’t know what we change in these games.

It will be a very tough game against Saints, very tough. They’re top of the league for a reason, and well on course to win the League Leaders’ Shield. We’ll have home advantage, and if the lads turn up, we can get a much-needed win.

David Bailey: Do you go with your head or your heart? My head says everything is pointing to a Saints victory. They are clear at the top of the table, most points scored and fewest conceded. Wigan are struggling for players if Shaun Wane is to be believed. They are the media’s darlings and anything other than a League Leaders Shield, Grand Final win, coach of the year and Man of Steel will be seen as a total travesty by Eddie and Co at Sky Sports.

My heart however is hoping that Wigan can get back to winning ways, that the players will want to perform in what could well be Shaun Wane (and Sam Tomkins) last derby game against Saints at the DW. The fact that Saints are streets ahead in the table, and Wigan are shorn of players makes me think what have we got to lose and very often it’s these types of games that our outstanding youngsters thrive in. Here’s hoping.

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Robert Kenyon: With the injuries to our 3/4s I can’t see past a Saints win I’m afraid to say. I hope our new signing Chris Hankinson plays, just so see how he gets on. I’m surprised we didn’t just dip further into our academy to be honest, we are letting Joe Brown go out on loan who I think would have done well in the first team. If we do win then it’ll be a minor miracle with the team we would be putting out, there is some real young talent in that side, I like Samy Kibula, Josh Woods and Liam Paisley and it would be good for them should we nick a win against the men from St Helens.

Jon Lyon: The injuries are creeping up again for Wigan and we could be without as many as five centres for the Saints game, which is shocking luck. But there’s not a lot we can do about it, so if we have to play with Greenwood or Isa and a battered and bruised Bateman at centre then so be it.

Wigan’s last performance and a look at the table suggests St Helens are strong favourites, and there’s not a lot to argue with that. However a look at Saints’ results and it seems to me they’ve been coasting for a while now, not as impressive as earlier in the season. Their last outstanding performance was back in May away at Castleford, so there is hope.

While I would have to make Saints the favourites, it wouldn’t be the first time Wigan have had to put out half a team and play a lot of kids and still scrape home. If anyone can get the players fired up for this one its Waney, so there is still cautious optimism. Wigan by two.

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Could anyone other than Ben Barba be in the running for the Steve Prescott Man of Steel?

Darren Wrudd: I find it quite disrespectful not only to other Super League players, but to the league itself that just because the Sky Sports muppets have been having hot flushes about Ben Barba since more or less the first round, that everyone is pandering to their narrow-minded rubbish. We have such high quality sportsmen in this game that many can challenge for a place at the top table. James Roby for one, although I think his first Man of Steel award was a little premature, is the form hooker in the sport. An engine like a train and a wonderful football brain.

Chris Hill for me is an amazing prop forward currently enjoying one of his best years and certainly in with a shout, whilst Remi Casty has to be considered this year down to his toughness and solidity in attack and defence. Aaron Murphy, Jacob Miller and Grant Millington show that most teams have a chance in this award and Ben Barba is possibly one of the last I would vote for. I think he has an amazing step in attack, but the slightest tackle and he limps away like he has been hit by Neil Cowie. That’s not Man of Steel quality for me, glory boys should have their own little trophy and leave the big ones for the tough guys.

Ben Reid: You can’t say anyone else has stood out as much as he has this season. He’s been head and shoulders above the rest.

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Each and every week, his name is being mentioned whether it’s scoring or just making the assists.

He’s been great to watch, he really has. He’s slotted I to that side with such ease and been the stand out for Saints all season. He tops of the scoring and assist charts having 22 in each, after just 21 games. I fully expect him to hit 30 in both.

He’s been a revelation for Super League too. I for one hope he stays, but I sadly cannot see it happening. You can’t deny the quality, class and extra eyes he brings to the games. Only downfall being that he plays for Saints.

David Bailey: I think this is probably a one horse race. Whichever two players are nominated for the Man of Steel alongside Barba may as well put their feet up and have a good drink during Grand Final week when the awards are announced at Old Trafford.

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Barba has been good, in some cases, brilliant, however looking around the league and the inconsistency of all the other teams and therefore their key players there is not a lot to go at in terms of rivals. Even regular candidates, Sean O’Loughlin, James Roby, Chris Hill, Gaz Ellis, have all been poor by their usual high standards. I can’t even think of two players that have stood out. Bateman for Wigan perhaps?

Robert Kenyon: No, they may as well give it to him now as I think he’s getting itchy feet and is looking for a way home. He’s topping the try scorer charts and has ripped teams to pieces all season. The rumours are circulating and everybody knew he was only over here to see out his ban. He has been fantastic though and it saddens me to think what the young fans are missing out on. They all really love Ben Barba and it’s been good to have him in Super League, we don’t get many superstars coming over anymore and the young fans are missing out on that.

Jon Lyon: I don’t think anyone will touch Barba this year. He has certainly been eye-catching going forward, as much as it pains me to say it, and he must be odds on to sweep up at the end of year awards.

The likes of Eddie Hemmings at Sky certainly help his cause by glossing over his defensive frailties and waxing lyrical about everything he does in attack.

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There have been few real stand out performers at other clubs. Jake Connor is now out for the rest of the season at Hull and Wakefield’s loss of form won’t help Bill Tupou’s cause. The only real challenger is Mark Percival, but even his exceptional stats don’t match up to Barba’s, who leads the way in both tries and try assists.

The fight to avoid the bottom four is intensifying. Which two sides will join Widnes and Salford in the Qualifiers?

Darren Wrudd: Although I do think that Hull KR are in trouble, up until the chairman of Leeds, the illustrious Mr Hetherington seemingly had a brain implosion and sacked Brian McDermott, I always saw Leeds putting together a good run and making the eight. Not now though, I can’t see the spark which brings them on and Sinfield giving an inspirational speech only lasts as long as the first big tackle. So I think Leeds will fail this year and finish top of the middle eights to prove a point.

Ben Reid: Hull KR and Leeds for me. Rhinos have been shocking this season. It’s crazy last few years they’ve had. Going from bottom four, to Grand Final winners, to bottom four once again. They’ve proper struggled this year, and McDermott’s paid the price.

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His sacking has been a long time coming. He’s been great, but like Wenger at Arsenal, they needed a change. I think this will do Leeds good, albeit the way they’re going is rather strange, with Lowes in Sinfield’s shadow. They’ll never go down, but it’s still a poor showing from them. If they lose the odd game, they could feel the pressure. I fancy Toronto to come up this season too, so it may be an interesting finish to the season for all involved.

David Bailey: Well we know that one of Huddersfield or Wakey will be safe as they play each other in the final round and with both holding a three-point cushion over Leeds it narrows down both the Rhinos’ and Hull KR’s hopes for security at the competition split. I just can’t see Rovers surviving especially facing both Warrington and Hull. I expect Catalans to beat Salford and secure their spot. I think the only chance Leeds have got is if Wakefeld or Huddersfield lose both their remaining games which is possible, but after Hetherington’s whining about Lenagan, I think it would be apt if Leeds lost out.

Robert Kenyon: I reckon Hull KR will be in the qualifiers and can see Salford getting relegated, the other team surprisingly I reckon Leeds. I really can’t see the new coaching team doing much this season. Since Drinkwater went to Catalans he’s pulled them out of the mire so I reckon they’ll do enough to stay out of the qualifiers. Leeds shouldn’t have sacked McDermott and he would have steered them clear I reckon. To be honest I can’t wait to get rid of the Super 8s.

Jon Lyon: The battle to avoid the bottom four looks like it will go down to the wire. Hull KR look down with games against Warrington and the Hull derby to come. Catalans should pick up the points they need against Salford this week. I certainly didn’t see Huddersfield beating Wigan but they have a tough match away at Castleford this week, and with Leeds having two winnable games against Widnes and Salford it could all come down to the Huddersfield v Wakefield game in the last round. I’ll take the momentum of Huddersfield and Leeds easier fixtures to see Wakefield slip into the bottom four. Exciting times ahead, which makes me wonder why we seem so keen to get rid of the Super 8s.