IT’S the middle of July, but Shaun Wane has instructed his players to switch into play-off mode.
IF Wigan are to reach the Grand Final, they have 11 games remaining this season - and tonight’s fixture against Widnes will be the last against a side outside the top-eight.
Little wonder Wane is looking on the rest of the season as an extended run-in to Old Trafford.
“These Super 8 games are going to be great, every game is going to be like a Grand Final,” he said.
“How much work the coaches can do with the players is questionable, because every game will be full-on. Which is great for the fans.
It’s exciting. It’s very unpredictable.”
Tonight’s opponents Widnes are the last ‘lowly’ club Wigan will face this year, but Wane is refusing to treat this contest as a two-point banker.
The Vikings need to win this game to keep alive their faint hopes of scraping into the eight, for when the season splits after round 23.
Throw into the mix the number of ex-Wigan players in their squad - and on the coaching staff - and Wane reckons it points to a high-quality test at the DW.
“If Widnes lose this they are definitely out the eight, so they’ll be hungry,” he said.
“They’ll turn up and play the best they’ve played all year, teams come to the DW and it’s a good scalp for them.
“They’ve no Kevin Brown but they still attacked superbly well against Catalans last week (winning 29-22), so we’re expecting them to challenge our defence.
“And with all the ex-Wigan lads they have in their side, they’ll have the desire to come and do a job on us.
“So we need to show desire and be mentally tough.
“If we do that, handle them and attack as we can, we should win the game.”
Widnes have only beaten two sides on their travels this year - bottom-two Salford and Wakefield - and Wigan will be heavily fancied to maintain their home winning run in Super League, which stretches back more than a year.
The Super 8s fixtures will be stacked to favour sides which finish higher up the ladder, and - in theory - Wigan can still climb to top within the next two games.
But a second or third-placed finish looks more realistic.
“I really want to win these next two games to give ourselves a chance of moving up, if we can,” said Wane
“But even if it’s only to get some momentum going into the Super 8s, it’ll be massive for us.”
Sam Powell may come back into the team tonight, to provide cover for hooker Micky McIlorum.
Wane says he must pick and choose which matches he asks England No.9 McIlorum - a key player this term - to play 80 minutes, as he did in the 26-24 win against Leeds last Thursday.
Elsewhere, Anthony Gelling will replace injured Dan Sarginson and Ryan Hampshire will come in for the rested Matty Bowen.