Wigan Warriors will need to be 'gritty not pretty' against St Helens
Thomas Leuluai has told his Wigan team-mates they will need to be gritty not pretty if they are to beat bitter rivals St Helens and reach the Betfred Super League Grand Final.
Wigan stand on the brink of one of the most remarkable turnarounds in Super League history having been in relegation trouble earlier in the season to now standing on the cusp of defending the title they won 12 months ago.
But first they must overcome their fiercest rivals in St Helens if they are to reach Old Trafford, host of the biggest night in Super League for the past 21 years.
And Leuluai – a veteran in this young Wigan team – says his side must work hard and show the desire to win – just as they did in their 18-12 Qualifier win over Salford.
Leuluai said: “After the Salford game I described the performance as gritty but not pretty and it will definitely need to be the same on Friday.
“That is how big games are won. Not flashy plays or set pieces, it is down to desire. That is why it was such a good game for us to play because when it came to it we were able to dig deep and show that we could work hard.
“Maybe we had to work harder than we wanted to at some points, but it was good to know that we could do it.
“From my time here we have always had a tough underbelly. It is something we work on. We have players who are good in these situations.”
Wigan have lost three matches to St Helens this year, the most recent in July - their last defeat.
“We thought we were going alright in the build-up to that game, but Saints took it to another level and we couldn’t match it,” said Leuluai.
“I’d like to think we’ve improved but we’ll see if we’ve improved enough. They’re a really good team so you need to play close to your perfect game.”
For Wigan even to be in this position is quite remarkable given their start to the season. Four defeats from their first six games had them battling relegation rather than thinking about back-to-back Grand Finals.
Hard work and trust in younger players dug them out of that predicament and saw them go on a run to finish second in the table at the end of the season.
One of those players who has emerged with credit this season is 18-year-old second row Morgan Smithies.
Smithies made 72 tackles in their clash with Salford Red Devils – a Super League record – and won the admiration of teammates and opponents alike.
And Leuluai could not be more impressed with the teen starlet.
He said: “I will get nowhere near those 72 tackles. He only played 68 minutes, so who knows what he would have done if he played the full 80.
“We are lucky to have players like that. I didn’t really know who he was at the beginning of the season because he didn’t train with us through the off season and he was chucked in. But you could see the class straight away. We are lucky to have players like that.”
New Zealander Leuluai has won two Super League titles with Wigan and says this season would be extra special given the tough start to the season.
He added: “Because of where we have come from it will mean a lot to see if we can go all the way this season.”
The losers on Friday will have a second chance to reach the Grand Final, via the final eliminator a week later, but Wigan are on a roll with eight successive wins and Lam is confident they can finish the job.
“Our season has been up and down,” Adrian Lam said.
“As it’s built up and we’ve got players back, we’ve been able to create some momentum in this back half.
“Saints have been the best team all year and it’s difficult to come here, even when you’re at your best.
“We are looking forward to the challenge. These are the games that everyone wants to play in.”
Saints have beaten the Warriors three times already in 2019 but Holbrook knows from experience that previous results count for little when it comes to the business end of the season.
“It’s great that we were able to finish 16 points clear of Wigan in second but on Friday night we’re not going to start the game 16 points in front of them,” he said.
“We’ve been rewarded for our consistency with a home semi and by getting a week off but that’s it. We know our biggest rivals are coming on Friday and determined as ever to knock us off.
“All the pats on the back for how well we’ve done all year is out of the window and we’ve got to turn up when it matters most.”
The Betfred Super League Grand Final is the biggest night in Super League and takes place at Old Trafford, the iconic home of Manchester United on Saturday 12 October (6pm KO). Secure your seat by visiting https://www.superleague.co.uk/tickets/grand-final