WITH seven games to go until this year’s slimmed-down play-offs, the objective for Wigan is simple.
Beat Huddersfield tonight and then seven points from the final six games will be enough.
Mathematically, 40 points will guarantee a place in Super League’s top four after 30 rounds, but with that being the maximum fifth-placed Castleford can manage, the reality is a smaller total should do it.
The disappointment in this, of course, is that the top four play-off places could be cemented with a couple of Super 8s rounds left to play, leaving two games or so of what would appear to be going through the motions – but ask Super League coaches and this is not the case.
Momentum has been a much-used word in the build-up to Super 8s, the new rugby league structure which has changed the look of the Super League play-offs and introduced a radical and hopefully exciting relegation/promotion battle rolled into one for the teams not in the mix for a place in the Grand Final.
And with the middle eights having their points accumulated from the regular season wiped to nought (which of course has to be the case with sides from different divisions merging into the battle) that competition will hold a lot of intrigue for fans looking in from the outside.
The way the competition is set up means there are a lot of four-point gamesJohn Winder
But back at the top, with those top four going into a straight semi-final come the first weekend in October, the lack of second chances means coaches have to be careful.
For Wigan, assistant coach John Winder doesn’t want to see his side endure the up-and-down form which has blotted some parts of their season in the Super 8s – particularly where away games have been concerned. And even if they manage to secure a top-four slot early – pride is at stake for a club like the Warriors.
“It’s about being consistently good every week,” said the assistant coach.
“Week three of the Super 8s will just be as important as week one.
“At the end of the day, you’re playing quality opposition and if you sit back you run the danger of being on the wrong end of a scoreline, and it’s important you build momentum.”
Building consistency is something Wigan have done well during the play-offs in the past couple of seasons.
And although tonight’s clash isn’t officially the start of the play-offs, there is certainly a different feel to it– a step-up from a regular–season fixture.
Wigan already have two league wins over the Giants this term – a 24-16 win at the DW Stadium in February was followed up in June with a 32-18 win at the John Smith’s’ Stadium.
But tonight’s clash holds a little more significance.
With the top eight teams playing each other just once more, the points they can take from each other become more precious. Wigan don’t want their third place spot coming under fire – a loss would bring Huddersfield to within a point of the Warriors. Huddersfield don’t want to be caught by Castleford, who would draw level on points with Paul Anderson’s men should Wigan win and they overturn Hull FC, which isn’t an unreasonable prediction to make.
But despite the added urgency, Winder says Wigan’s preparation is staying largely the same – and they are not looking at anything except what is in front of them.
“The way the competition is set up means there are a lot of four-point games,” he said. “You’re playing all the top opposition so there’s really four points up for grabs.
“It’s just important that you focus on the challenge that’s in front of you.
“Our challenge is Huddersfield and we know they’re going to bring a quality squad that will be prepared, come with a lot of intensity, so it’s important we get up to speed and play up to that level early.”