Wigan Warriors: The 18th Man - ‘We simply must match Hull KR’s energy levels...'

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Our panel of Warriors experts look ahead to this weekend’s highly anticipated Challenge Cup semi-final clash against Hull KR.

Stephen Ford:

I thought before the game that Huddersfield away could have been a bit of a banana skin game but although the first half was relatively close, I don’t think the result was seriously in doubt even after Byrne’s yellow card. An even first half but despite a brilliant try from Huddersfield I thought that we looked composed and relaxed for the majority of the first half. The second half was probably our best 40 minutes so far in Super League this season by quite a margin. Dry and warm conditions play to our strengths and French had one of those games that no other player in SL can even think about matching. Not really a game where forwards stand out but I thought Ellis, Farrell and Thompson were the pick of the Wigan forwards. It was good to see Ellis performing to his early season form with Thompson once again giving another consistent solid display. So far this season Thompson is our most effective prop and he seems to be getting better with every game. French was outstanding and ably supported by Field whose confidence seems to be back to last season’s levels. Marshall continues to be the most underrated winger in the competition and perhaps one of the most underrated players in the Wigan first team.

Great to hear of Mago’s contract extension for another two years with the option of another year. I was pretty scathing of his fitness levels in his first season but last season and this season he seems to have come on leaps and bounds fitness wise and continues to be excellent at producing quick play the balls after being tackled. If he can build on his current fitness and form then this could be an excellent piece of business by the club particularly if he further improves his defensive capabilities.

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Wigan Warriors will look to avenge their defeat at Craven Park this weekendWigan Warriors will look to avenge their defeat at Craven Park this weekend
Wigan Warriors will look to avenge their defeat at Craven Park this weekend

I’ve been looking forward to the Challenge Cup semi-final since the draw and I’m expecting a great match against Hull KR with hopefully a better result than last year’s semi final.

HKR in my opinion are now in the top four teams in the competition with an improving squad that plays at a high standard for the vast majority of games. We seem to struggle at Craven Park with their intensity and their ability to offload when seemingly well held by our defence. I expect a very physical game on Saturday but if we get dry conditions I’m hopeful that we will get our revenge for last year’s defeat and will return to Wembley once more. Subject to injuries I expect the same 17 as against Huddersfield with Cooper replacing Byrne as the only change.

Personally I would go with Hill replacing Byrne but I suspect Peet will go for Cooper’s experience particularly as we will be playing Nsemba for the vast majority of the 80 minutes and he may feel that another very young player in the 17 may be too much of an ask. I've got a feeling that this will not be a high scoring game as both teams will be looking to be very strong defensively and if we can score three tries I think that this will be enough to give us a win. Field has been getting better and better each week and I’m hoping that he can deliver one of his full length of the field specials to add a bit of magic to the game.

David Bailey:

Well, here we are, arguably Wigan's second biggest match of the season so far, (after the Penrith game). No disrespect to Good Friday, but nothing was won or lost on that day, the Warriors already overcoming the advantage St Helens gained in the table.

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There are so many subplots in this game that could easily distract. Hull KR desperate to get back to Wembley and atone for their heartbreaking defeat. Wigan desperate to get back to Wembley. Seven seasons since an appearance there, and eleven since tasting victory at a stadium synonymous with the club is far too long.

Not to mention the Warriors wanting to fix up arguably their worst performance in probably twelve months when Rovers beat the Warriors in every department just a couple of weeks ago.

There is a bit of a bounce around both clubs at the moment, Paddy Mago signed a new contract, which he richly deserves after his efforts of the past year. However, KR retaining Willie Peters for the next three seasons is arguably their most important signing. He, like Peet, is a new breed of coach that lives and breathes the club and the area, and just has a knack of getting the best from every player. It will be interesting to see how the semi-final pans out. Hull KR fans will almost certainly outnumber the Wigan fans once again. The apathy to the cup semi final just makes no sense to me. I get there is a cost of living crisis, I get some people work, and I get it's another trip over to Yorkshire. I just can't wrap my head around it. I just hope another hostile atmosphere doesn't derail the Warriors.

Despite Rovers most recent victory, the bookmakers have Wigan as favourites. Possibly because of last weekend's results. Wigan put in a magical second half performance at Huddersfield meanwhile KR came unstuck on the road outside of Yorkshire once again.

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The Warriors cut loose in the second half Bevan French terrorising the Giants at will. It was a strong attacking performance on a dry day with several standouts. Marshy can't stop scoring, Leeming was so effective, Peet moved O'Neill to loose forward to keep him on. Wardle once again showed a masterclass is centre play. Field looks like he is regaining his form and fitness too. A repeat display on Saturday would be perfect.

Wigan will reshuffle with Liam Byrne once again banned. I'm guessing either Cooper or Hill will be called upon, Peet may opt for experience despite Hill's good performances. Either way, it's a great marker to see if lessons have been learned from both the semi defeat and the recent league loss. It won't define the season, but it could lay down a very serious marker should the Warriors progress.

Darren Wrudd:

I didn’t really know what to expect last week against the Giants, both teams can be top drawer on their day and it's hard to foresee who will hold it together. The first contact didn’t settle my nerves either, with Liam Byrne sin-binned for another high shot, which has since evolved into another two match ban. The footage did not show clearly the contact made as the camera angle was not good, but we risk taking the big shot hard contact out of the game as players will be terrified of a ban just for hitting hard. However, perhaps the officials are going to be gunning for Liam now and he needs to be careful.

That said, a tough first twenty minutes and Huddersfield played some good rugby but ultimately they were no match and we seemed to click after half time and things started to go our way. The final score was flattering but I’ll take that as we worked hard to make it look so easy. Our defence was well drilled and in control for most of the game, with Leeming outstanding in his efforts both on and off the ball. In fact the whole squad must take credit for the way they formed up in defence and worked tirelessly to create enough momentum to make the silky skills of French and Marshall look so……….. well, silky !

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Looking forward to my favourite competition and the Challenge Cup semi final is a nerve wracking affair. After last year's loss and the last outing against Hull KR not going our way recently, we really do need a change up in approach to have any chance of a weekend in London. Only a couple of weeks ago, the Robins blew us off the park by sheer enthusiasm, chasing every ball, staying sharp to every play. Whilst we looked tired at times and lethargic. We simply must match their energy levels to give ourselves a chance.

We have the quality in this side to stamp our name on this game as the best club in the world, as a warning to all pretenders. I would love to see us perform to our best, both in defence and attack. Keep their score low and get in their faces from the off.

Be structured and methodical in our game plan and patient enough to build pressure and field position. In effect take that control away from them and in doing so undermine their efforts whilst we put on the points.

Trap door rugby, no next week to correct the errors, come on lads we know you can do it and cement your spot for the second trophy final of the year.

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