Confident Saint Wilkin ready for ‘star-studded’ Wire

St Helens veteran Jon Wilkin has hailed Warrington for their achievement so far this season, but has also reminded people that pressure changes everything when it comes to knockout rugby.

Saints travel to Warrington on Thursday evening to face Wire in the Super League play-off semi-final, and Wilkin is well aware of the threats posed by the home team.

Four Warrington players – Kurt Gidley, Ben Currie, Chris Hill and Ryan Atkins – were named in the Super League Dream Team this week.

But St Helens have found form over the last three months or so, and Wilkin insists that the squad are feeling confident, ahead of Thursday’s game.

“I think Warrington have done tremendously well to get this number of people in the Dream Team,” Wilkin told Love Rugby League.

“They’ve probably set the standard for most of the year. Them and Hull FC have been exceptional.

“I suppose ourselves and Wigan are coming at it from a slightly different point of view, in that we’ve gathered momentum and form towards the back end of the year.

“I think it comes to a nice point, where Wire and Hull have been setting the standard, and us and Wigan are coming up on the rails.

“There’s two semi-finals that are nicely placed. Warrington are stacked full of class, that goes without saying.

“They’ve really recruited well, I think, and have a star-studded squad.

“We have a good history against them at their place, and we come into the game full of form and full of confidence.”

Warrington have shown class all season, but that counts for little when one defeat ends your season, according to Wilkin.

“They’ve competed for the Challenge Cup and the League Leaders, but there’s no guarantees that that gets you to the Grand Final,” he said.

“In 2005, we finished top by eight points and looked untouchable, but we didn’t even make the Grand Final.

“Your form through the year can be irrelevant at this time of the season, and this time of year can do funny things to teams.

“We’re relaxed but full of confidence. Expectations have probably been low because of how we were playing in March, April time.

“We’ve come through that, and I think we’ve learned what works for us, and we’ll try and take that into the semi.”

Saints were under pressure earlier in the season, with poor performances and poor results dogging the side.

Coach Cunningham came under pressure from fans, but it is Cuningham and his coaching whom Wilkin credits with turning the tide.

“When those situations come about, when you’re being criticised from outside, then you’ve either got confidence in the group from within, or you go out and try and get that confidence from somewhere else,” he explained.

“We never lacked confidence. A lot of people were maybe sketchy about what kind of credible threat we were to the competition.

“But we always knew that if we could get both sides of our game back together, then we’d be threatening.

“We probaly revisited maybe some defensive performances of previous years, and previous teams, and we took that and thought that it might be a blueprint as to how to get the best out of the team.

“Credit to Keiron Cunningham, Jamahl Lolesi, Sean Long and Paul Wellens for that, for spotting that and changing it.

“The key to how we’ve performed in the last three months has been how we’ve defended.

“We’ve not been flamboyant or exciting with the ball, we’ve been very efficient, and that’s the recipe for winning games at this time of year.”

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