Cup fever returns to DW Stadium
Wigan's hard battle at Featherstone in the last round of the Carnegie Challenge Cup proved that there are no easy games in this competition and that the magic of the cup is still very much alive.by NRL
Wigan's hard battle at Featherstone in the last round of the Carnegie Challenge Cup proved that there are no easy games in this competition and that the magic of the cup is still very much alive. A statement which will hardly be truer than this Saturday at 2.30pm when the DW Stadium plays host to its biggest Challenge Cup meeting in years.
With the biggest derby in Rugby League set to feature on BBC TV, a game which is too tight to call could not be a better advert for the sport as a whole.
Since the double-act of Rush and Cunningham took charge at Langtree Park, the Saints have only lost one match - that colossal clash with Wigan on Good Friday, and will rightly view this forthcoming Cup derby as an early opportunity to gain revenge. In addition, they haven't failed to reach the semi-finals of the Challenge Cup in the last 11 years, and they won't want to let that record go.
The dangers posed by St Helens are pretty obvious. Halfback Johnny Lomax and hooker James Roby are the masters of destruction in the Saints side and, though he isn't highly rated by all Wigan fans, veteran full-back Paul Wellens is still the reliable strongman at their rear.
Where they are less effective is in the forwards, especially with question-marks against the fitness of giant prop Tony Puletua. On Good Friday, a weakened Wigan pack rolled over the Saints middle unit, Gareth Hock, Harrison Hansen and Jeff Lima all showing far too much strength and aggression for their opposite numbers, and Mike McIlorum effectively marking Roby. Another area where Wigan have the advantage is in terms of off-the-mark speed. Wigan will be lacking Pat Richards, but Saints are not the fleet-footed horsemen they once were. There'll be few open spaces for the likes of Sam Tomkins and Josh Charnley to exploit, but the Saints know they will have to watch these two like hawks ? give either of them an inch, and they'll take a mile.
The key to a Wigan victory will be their corralling of Lomax and Roby. Not an easy task, of course - in the Good Friday derby Lomax had to withdraw through injury - but it won't just be about who in the Saints side Wigan need to nullify. There is the not insignificant issue of how Saints can cope with Wigan halves, Brett Finch and Tommy Leuluai.
Saints are a great Cup-fighting side and need to be treated with extreme caution, but on this occasion they'll feel exactly the same way about Wigan.
Last season's cup quarter final against Warrington Wolves was arguably the stand out fixture of 2011, if Saturdays titanic clash lives up to this billing, the fans will certainly not be disappointed.
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