No bigger rivalry in Super League than Wigan v St Helens – boss Matt Peet

Less-than-stellar campaigns may have left their regular-season stranglehold in peril but Wigan boss Matt Peet maintains there remains no bigger match in Betfred Super League than the Warriors’ ongoing rivalry with four-time defending champions St Helens.

The sold-out signs are expected to be propped up outside the Totally Wicked Stadium on Friday night for part two of a tussle that saw Peet’s men reign supreme in their first meeting of 2023 with a 14-6 win on Good Friday that oozed quality.

Peet’s men limped out of Magic Weekend last Sunday after a dismal 46-22 defeat to Catalans, while Saints’ season-best 48-6 win over Huddersfield cannot disguise the fact that they have reached the halfway point of the year, having nudged into the sixth and final play-off spot.

In a game given an extra dimension by the fierce loyalty inspired by two men who were brought through the ranks at their respective home-town clubs, Peet insists recent shifts in momentum matter little.

“I know other teams would like to think they’re our rivals, but really it’s Wigan and Saints because of the size of the game and two clubs’ histories and mutual respect,” said Peet.

“It’s a special game whenever you run into it and there are always sub-plots. One team might be flying and the other not doing so well but we know in games like this that form counts for nothing.

“It’s a big challenge and it’s exactly what we need. We can’t wait to get last week out of our system. The lads know they let themselves down, they got the basics wrong, and hopefully they’ll be much improved.”

In contrast, Saints head into the game on a high after what felt like a breakthrough performance against the Giants, coming in a season in which they have struggled to shrug off the after-effects of their World Club Challenge win in Australia.

With an almost fully-fit squad to choose from, Paul Wellens is approaching his first home clash with the Warriors as coach increasingly secure in the knowledge that his side are rediscovering their best form at the right time.

Rugby League – First Utility Super League Grand Final – St Helens v Wigan Warriors – Old Trafford
St Helens coach Paul Wellens (centre) starred many times against Wigan as a player (Martin Rickett/PA)

“It’s my first derby at home as a coach, which means a lot,” said Wellens. “Both myself and Matt are hugely passionate about coaching our home-town clubs, that’s a given, but the players are the ones people are paying to see.”

The prospect of Jack Welsby’s 100th game for Saints gives an already-titanic clash an additional dimension and Wellens reflected on the stunning trajectory of the 22-year-old since he made his debut in the Challenge Cup against Hull in 2018.

Wellens, who had retired as a player two years’ prior to Welsby’s first-team emergence, coached Welsby in the junior ranks and said, despite recognising his precocious talent, he could not have envisaged the speed with which his fellow full-back had surged to the top of the sport.

St. Helens v Huddersfield Giants – Betfred Super League Magic Weekend – St. James’ Park
Jack Welsby is set to make his 100th appearance for St Helens (Richard Sellers/PA)

“I always remember knowing very little about him when he came up to the first team and he started opening up and scoring tries and you just knew then, he had something a bit special,” said Wellens.

“I was quite surprised to hear he’s only reached 100 games and when you think about what he’s achieved as an individual in those games, it is quite remarkable.

“He’s so mature for someone his age and he’s already been part of our leadership group for 18 months. The scary thing with Jack is that he is always striving to get even better.”