I think in many respects this derby is even bigger than the Grand
Final the two sides played last October. The prize for both sides
For Wigan - They of course are hoping to reach a new
Wembley Cup Final for the first time. It's amazing really that a
whole generation of Wigan fans have never made the pilgrimage to
Wembley to watch Wigan play, especially considering the team have
made 11 trips there in my 28 years of age. 13 years is a long time
though and we are well overdue a return. That makes this a huge
game for us. We have previous Semi Final demons which should be
For Saints - Well for them I think it's not just about reaching
the cup final. This game would be huge for them in potentially
stopping Wigan being the dominant force of this rivalry for the
next few years. I predicted on the St Helens redvee.net forums
last year (in about June - well before we won the title) that
Wigan would dominate Super League for the next few seasons. I was
laughed at but after winning the title, a trip to, and winning at, Wembley having
seen off both Warrington and St Helens would go a long way to
justifying that prediction. If Saints can halt Wigan here, and win
the final, that would perhaps suggest they can compete for the
next few years but to see Wigan win the cup after
winning the league, would be hard for them to stomach. Especially
with James Graham leaving, possibly Leon Pryce as well and Paul Wellens getting even older.
They do have some great kids at St Helens but losing can become a
habit, just like winning can become a habit.
It's all about this game first though and I've got to be
honest, I'm very confident. How can you not be when we've embarked
on an 8 match winning streak which included victories over six of
the other seven sides in the current top 8.
Saints themselves are on a five match
winning streak but they haven't beaten any top 4 rival in that
run. In fact they have failed to beat any top 4 rival all this season
having lost to both Wigan and Warrington twice and also at
Ok maybe Saints have been massive victims of "injury crisis"
after "injury crisis" but here's a dose of reality. This is a
table which basically adds together the number of appearances
between each clubs 1-13 squad numbers.
Hull FC 234
St Helens 221
So there you go. Saints have had more value from their squad
numbers 1-13 than we have but yet our record against the big sides
holds up pretty good, whilst Saints record doesn't. Perhaps it's
more a case of them having poor squad depth?
Since Michael Maguire became Wigan coach our once poor derby
record has turned on it's head. In fact I think Wigan have dominated all the
derbies that have been away from the DW Stadium.
I include Cardiff this year in that remark. Granted we were
lucky to get a draw in the end but up until the hour mark we were
in total control.
Good Friday last year at Knowsley Road was a very tight game in
many aspects but worth
remembering that both St Helens tries came when Wigan were
down to 12 men with a sin bin.
The Grand Final last year was, as finals go, a comfortable
victory whilst last month at Stobart Stadium was a total non
contest from a Saints point of view.
The two times Saints have played well in since
Maguire came here have been in both contests played at DW Stadium.
They won 26-24 last June whilst of course of Good Friday they were
54 seconds away from victory again before Wigan snatched it.
Does any of that count for anything? Probably not but I am
convinced that if Wigan play at their best in both defence and
attack, St Helens will struggle to compete. They are not the
Saints of old. Jamie Foster aside, I think the lack of pace in the
backs at St Helens is startling. When we played Warrington two
weeks ago both sides were scoring tries for fun, from deep! I
can't see who is going to do that for Saints. They struggled to
find any breaks in the game at Widnes last month.
I also think the fact that Saints have won the penalty count
comfortably in all three previous derbies this year, yet haven't
won any of them, say's a lot. In fact the combined penalty count
in those three derbies is an amazing 21-6 in St Helens favour
(10-3 in Cardiff, 5-1 on Good Friday, 6-2 at Stobart).
Wigan have got to take heart from that. Despite this apparent
all singing, all dancing, all dominating, powerful St Helens pack,
we've never lost against them this year despite getting little
help from the referees. I mean they are pretty miserable penalty
returns by anyone's standards.
Saints are very tight in discipline though and they will need
to be I think to have any chance. They'll probably try to win the
game by outscoring us. What they've lost in the last year or two
hasn't been in attack but in defence. This year they are conceding
five points per match more than us and that lack of standard in
defence was a big reason why they kept falling at the final hurdle
to win trophies under Mick Potter and it hasn't improved so far
under Royce Simmons.
The only chink Saints could find in Wigan's
defence at Widnes last time out was down our right side defence.
They made a couple of breaks on Josh Charnley and Joel Tomkins but
never seemed to cotton on to that fact. They just kept reverting
back to type and sticking it up the middle through James Roby and
I can't see Graham and Roby being that crap again though and
the defence on Charnley and Joel's wing is a massive worry for me.
But if Josh can contribute up the other end in attack, that will
go a long way to nullifying that because we know Pat and Sam are
going to be threats. We'll kill them out wide if given the chance.
We know Saints love a forwards battle but our pack is more than up
to that challenge. I'll stress again that is a joke that Lee
Mossop doesn't even seem to be in contention for an England place.
The fact that he is still keeping pace with the unbelievable Sam
Tomkins in our
player of the season voting speaks volumes for the guy. We've
been able to rotate the support cast well in recent weeks with
Andy Coley, Ryan Hoffman, Paul Prescott, Harrison Hansen and Sean
O'Loughlin all missing at least one of the last five matches. That
should keep us fresh up front despite what was a hectic July. That
shows the value of having a big and healthy squad.
So in ending this preview I'll reiterate how confident I am
that we will win. Why am I confident? Because the Warrington win
showed how much this Wigan side wants to win this cup. Mental
fragility doesn't exist under Michael Maguire. We don't fear
Saints anymore and the semi final demons just won't happen under
him. There is absolutely no way we will go out there on Saturday
and just freeze like we did in the 2007 and 2009 Semi Finals. If
Saints end up beating us they'll have genuinely played out their
skins to do so rather than us just being poor and off guard. If
that happens we'll just have to take our hats off to them.