‘It’s passion not hatred’

Tensions rise during the Good Friday clash at the DW Stadium

Tensions rise during the Good Friday clash at the DW Stadium

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Keiron Cunningham insists his job will be “easy” this week as his Saints players fire themselves up to face Wigan on Friday.

With second place in the Super League table at stake as well as bragging rights – the fixture carries extra significance as the season nears the Super 8s stage.

But the former Saints hooker, who played in countless derbies from friendlies to Grand Finals, insists the event is box office based on passion alone.

“There’s nothing like a Saints-Wigan game,” he said.

“The coaches get an easy job this week.

“You do all your video and do as much as you want but all that goes out of the window as soon as you cross the line anyway.

Your honest Saints and Wigan fans – there isn’t hatred there – there’s passion there because they are passionate about this derby

Keiron Cunningham

“These are special occasions that you’re very fortunate to be involved in.”

Cunningham will be looking for his first Super League win over Wigan as head coach following his side’s 12-4 Good Friday defeat at the DW Stadium, and as usual, tensions will be high as the enemies collide.

But off the field, Cunningham says the rivalry is based on something much more meaningful than “hatred”.

“When it comes to the passion of the game it can be misinterpreted,” he said.

“Your honest Saints and Wigan fans – there isn’t hatred there – there’s passion there because they are passionate about this derby.

“The fans love it as much as the players.”

it probably divides families, especially those on the crossovers, in that Billinge type of area and it’s good banter.”

Respect also filters through to the coaches, and it is widely known Cunningham is on good terms with Wigan boss Shaun Wane.

“I speak to Waney a fair bit and it’s not always about rugby,” explained the Saints boss.

“We get on really well. He’s a great guy and he’s as passionate about Wigan as I am about St Helens. We’ve both come through the systems at our clubs and we love our clubs.

“If I’m not playing Wigan I always sort of root for Waney and have a look at how they’re going.

“I’ll always fire him a text, wish him all the best and congratulate him on his success.”

The goodwill goes both ways – and even though the pair sit on opposite sides in what many claim to be rugby league’s biggest rivalry, Wane is also supportive of Cunningham.

“He’s a great fella and he was one of the first guys when I got the job – he was straight on the phone,” said Cunningham.

“I’ll never forget that, it goes a long way with me.”

But that doesn’t mean to say respect will get in the way of either camp going all out for the result on Friday.

Cunningham and Wane have experienced derbies as fans, players and coaches, and Cunningham knows the significance to all three groups.

“I used to love playing in the games,” he said.

“The atmosphere’s second to none - you can’t relate it in any other games.

“It’s even better than some finals.

“I was fortunate to play in some great Saints sides in big games against Wigan and the occasion is like no other.

“It’s going to be the same again on Friday.”