They were thrown together as class-mates when they started high school and – this Friday – Joe Burgess and Luke Thompson will be on opposite teams for the derby blockbuster.
Clashes between Wigan and St Helens divide family, friends and villages. Add to that list the former members of Mrs Perissat’s form at St Edmund
Arrowsmith High School in Ashton – as two of its members go head to head.
“We were in the same form, from year seven through to 11,” recalls winger Burgess.
“We played for the school team together, and he was always the go-to bloke to get you out of trouble.
“If there were any big blokes in the other teams, we’d send Thommo in to sort them out!
“He’s always been a good player and this year, he’s been killing it for Saints.
“It’ll be good to catch up with him. When we see each other we always say, ‘Let’s catch up’ but never end up doing.
“We’ll probably say the same after the game on Friday – this year it’s my aim to give him a ring and meet up!”
Burgess and prop Thompson both made their first-team debuts in 2013 and were both included in the England Knights squad earlier this month.
They have certainly gone a long way since their days at school together – but Thompson still remembers a fresh-faced Burgess being popular with the staff!
“Joe was a good lad, all the teachers liked him – I’d say he was a bit of a teachers’ pet as he was always good in class and always did his homework,” he said.
“Mind you, we had to be good as the rugby coach, Mr Bradley, would search out all his players in the playground and say, ‘You’ve got to behave in class, or else you’re not playing.’
“We’d knock about together at school and played for the rugby team, but he played amateur in Wigan and I played in St Helens – Bold Miners v Ince Rose Bridge was like Wigan-Saints!
“They were always good games as both had good teams at the time and whenever we played, there was always that bit of banter between us.”
"Despite both going to the same Ashton school, Thompson never had any interest in following Burgess onto the Warriors’ scholarship.
"In fact, he went to great lengths to avoid being picked for the service area side – the Wigan ‘town team’ – which was decided by which
council area you resided in.
“My family put me down as being at my nan’s address in St Helens, to make sure I could go for them,” he revealed.
When Burgess and Thompson were midway through their five years at St Edmund Arrowsmith, they were joined in their school team by a talented back who played a year-above his age group – Oliver Gildart.
And the Wigan centre, who now forms a lethal left-edge combination with Burgess for the Warriors, says he owes his Saints opponent a huge debt of gratitude.
“I was one of the young ones, so if anyone tried to pick on me, Luke would take care of me,” smiled the reigning Super League Young Player of the Year. “He was a big lad, Thommo – probably as big then as he is now.
“It’s been good to see how he’s been going, he’s been killing it this year, I think he’s one of the best middles in Super League.
“Budgie and I are mates with him but we’ll be trying to knock lumps off each other on Friday, it’s what it’s all about.
“There were quite a lot of Saints fans at school and I often see them when we play at Langtree Park – they’ll be giving me stick.”
Incredibly, Wigan have had the Good Friday bragging rights since the trio were at school together, with Saints’ last victory in the Easter Weekend fixture coming back in 2009.
Despite that run, Justin Holbrook’s outfit head into this match as slight favourites.
Both sides have suffered just one defeat so far this season, but Saints have played an extra game which has put them two points clear of Wigan at the top of the Super League table.
“I don’t like saying it but they are playing really well,” added Burgess.
“But it’s Good Friday, none of that matters.
“If you’re killing sides 50-0 every week or bottom of the league on a losing run, it goes out this window. This is Wigan-Saints. It’s different to other games.”