Playoff Preview: St Helens vs Wigan Warriors

R3_Saints_Wigan

Previous meetings: Saints won two games to one this year, although oddly Wigan have outscored Saints in this year’s meetings due to the beatbown at Murrayfield. Saints have had by far the better of their meetings over the last few years, and haven’t won a Super League game at Knowsley Rd in six years. 

Form: Wigan are red-hot right now, with their battering at Huddersfield the only real blip. St Helens have been, erm… mixed since the Challenge Cup semi-final loss to Huddersfield, and although they did look like they were back at their best for the opening quarter of the playoff game against the Giants, they faded somewhat after that. 

Personnel Concerns: Both sides are at full strength. Saints were a little worried about Matt Gidley and Kieron Cunningham, but obviously that bye-week has been good for them. 

Thoughts: This game is what the playoffs is all about. Former champion side versus great pretenders, and local rivals to boot. I really don’t know what to make of St Helens right now. They’ve been mediocre for a few months now, yet they somehow managed to look like their old selves for a bit against Huddersfield. Then they fell back into bad habits for a bit without actually ever looking like losing. They’re clearly a side in transition. Wigan by contrast have looked good in the playoffs and their win at Craven Park last weekend was no small achievement. 

What is a very big deal about this game is that it is Sean Long’s last game in the red vee at Knowsley Rd, and I imagine he wants to give the fans a worthy send-off. In return I imagine the atmosphere should be something special, which will probably favour the home side. Wigan are also a fairly  young side, and players like Sam Tomkins won’t have played in a game of this magnitude before, although they got preparation for a hostile environment last weekend. 

I’m often a believer in karma in sport, and Saints haven’t been giving off good signals for this lately. In their last few games at the GPW Recruitment Stadium Wigan have come really close to beating Saints, and you have to wonder whether their time has finally come. Add to that the news that Sean Long is doing a book signing on the afternoon of the game, and that he’s been openly talking about rejecting a move to Wigan for next season, and I just wonder if the stars will align against Long and St Helens. This could well be the kind of game where divine intervention matters, because I don’t expect a blowout either way. 

In Conclusion… I really don’t like picking against St Helens, particularly when they’re at home, and it’s hard to argue with their Super League pedigree. With that said, if any side can beat them it’s this Wigan side. Basically, I’m sitting on the fence for this one, which is a sign that this could be the best playoff game we’ve seen in a long time.

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