From Wembley to Warrington, title race to go to the Wire?
Warrington v Wigan | Sunday 12:45 - live on Sky Sports 1
The Warrington Wolves and Wigan Warriors go head-to-head on Sunday for the third time this season, and the stakes couldn't be higher. In front of a sell-out Halliwell Jones crowd, a win for the visiting Warriors would see them crowned League leaders for the second year in succession while two points for the hosts would mean Warrington leapfrog their rivals into top spot, with just one round of fixtures remaining.
The reigning Super League champions come to town just six weeks after knocking the then holders Wolves out of the Challenge Cup, a competition that Wigan went on to win in dramatic fashion at Wembley on Saturday. The Cherry and Whites started the final in incredible fashion, exploding into a 16-0 lead against the Rhinos, putting on a show of imperious rugby in a superb opening twenty minutes display. They were soon pegged back though by a spirited Leeds team, lifted by the introduction of the brilliant Rob Burrow, but managed to extend their lead late in the game and win at Wembley for the first time since 1995.
The Wire have enjoyed a slightly more relaxed build up to what promises to be an epic encounter. After an impressive victory away to Catalans in which they had to cope without skipper Morley (eye), Brett Hodgson (torn quad), Simon Grix (groin), Ben Westwood (knee) and Rhys Evans (foot), they had a weekend off to prepare. The Wolves, now on a club record run of eight successive Super League wins know that their Super League destiny is in their own hands, two wins from their final two matches will see them seal top spot for the first time since 1973, starting in front of a packed house this Sunday.
Despite their illustrious opponents having won the Challenge Cup last week, it is Warrington that will kick-off the match as favourites, priced at 8/13. Home advantage could be crucial for the Wolves, the Halliwell Jones will literally be packed with hungry Wolves baying for the blood of the Warriors. Another positive factor at the host's disposal is their resounding win over Wigan in Super League round seven. The Wolves ran out comfortable 24-6 victors at the DW Stadium in March, an early sign of what is turning out to be a great season for Tony Smith's men. The Aussie tactician is clearly excited ahead of this top of the table showdown, "It's good to be involved in these sorts of big games and being talked about. It's good progression for us as a club and a team. But it is still a game of Rugby League and we need to go out there and perform to our best this weekend and that's what we are focusing on. We are looking forward to it and I know the fans and supporters are too."
A repeat of the scoreline from the reverse encounter would mean winning bets on Warrington-12 (9/4) in the handicap market and Warrington 16-20 (9/1) in the home team winning margin market.
The jubilant Warriors enter this match as 13/10 underdogs but no one will be underestimating the Super League pacesetters given their pedigree and class. Their Cumbrian prop Lee Mossop insists "We have earned the right to be top of the league and hopefully we can take that on in to the final. We have worked hard all year to get where we are and have the right to be confident."
Wigan coach Michael Maguire is waiting for a full assessment on an injury suffered by Mossop at Wembley as well as that of Josh Charnley. Maguire will have Sam Tomkins available for selection though after RL bosses decided not to ban the England full-back after a shameful V-sign toward Leeds Rhinos supporters during his team's Challenge Cup final victory. Tomkins escaped with a £1000 fine suspended until the end of 2012.
In such a close call of a game, it is no surprise to see the handicap spread slightly favouring the home team. Set at four points, Warrington -4 and Wigan +4 are both priced at 10/11.
Both teams have based their excellent attacking plays on sound defending. Therefore is was a great surprise in the Challenge Cup quarter-final to see tries and points flying in from the first whistle. I feel that this match could revert to type with a much closer game between the league's best two teams.
I'm going to ignore Chris Mousdell this week and pip for the Wolves to win by 1-5 points at 13/2.