St Helens coach Justin Holbrook has warned his players that form means nothing ahead of the Good Friday derby against Wigan.
The Australian’s side have lost just once this campaign and showed no mercy in dispatching rivals Warrington Wolves 38-12 last time out, but he expects reigning champions Wigan to pose a different challenge than their league form suggests.
And despite Adrian Lam’s Wigan losing seven Super League matches already, Holbrook says he’s seen enough from Wigan’s performances to send alarm bells ringing.
“What’s made it difficult for them is the side changing every week and being unsettled,” said the 43-year-old. “I think they’ve shown in some games, the first game against us and in the World Club Challenge against the [Sydney] Roosters they were outstanding, and the Catalans game.
“They’ve shown what they are capable of and they are as dangerous as any other side in the competition on their day. While they are not happy sitting where they are over ten rounds, we know what they are capable of.
“In any sport and in any derby, you know that the two teams want to win more than anything. It doesn’t matter where they are in the table, you’ve got two teams that will want to be playing at their best and will be.
“We’ve started really well and we know that, but we have to play great again on Friday. That’s all we are focused on.”
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St Helens clinched the League Leaders’ Shield last season, but Wigan prospered against Warrington at Old Trafford to seal a third Grand Final victory.
Now in his third season as Saints’ head coach, Holbrook is all too aware of the importance and history surrounding a 365th meeting between the two sides.
“They have got the bragging rights about being the best side last year, it’s up to our team and every other team to get on top of them,” he said.
“Friday will be no different, but regardless of that it’s another derby game and it means so much to so many people. We have a lot of responsibility and it will be very rewarding to get the win.
“Just the fact that we are so close to each other and only a few miles apart. If you grow up in St Helens, you stay in St Helens, and Wigan vice versa. You don’t tend to move around and it means a lot to so many people. It’s a special game and a special derby.”
Meanwhile, Wigan captain and all-time derby record appearance maker Sean O’Loughlin is set play after recovering from a calf strain. Holbrook was quick to single out his importance.
“O’Loughlin has always been a great player and he always looks forward to playing St Helens. If he’s 50/50 he will play, that’s for sure.”
Wigan Warriors take on St Helens in the fiercest rivalry in rugby league at the DW Stadium on Friday April 19th, kick-off 3pm. Secure your seat today by calling the DW Stadium ticket office on 01942 311111 or by visiting https://wiganwarriors.com/tickets.
By Max Chesterton