'I have learned what the rivalry means' says Saints boss ahead of derby
Kristian Woolf has dubbed the Wigan-Saints blockbuster at the DW Stadium on Friday night as 'the biggest club derby in the world.'
His fellow Australians back home may not entirely agree but since joining St Helen as head coach ahead of the 2020 season he has come to realise what a game of this stature means to the players, supporters and community in general of both towns.
It will be Woolf's first taste of a derby on 'enemy territory' in what is expected to attract the biggest RL crowd since the Challenge Cup Final in July and he says he cannot wait for kick-off.
The 46-year-old Aussie said: ''We've five weeks left of the regular season and I feel we are lucky enough to have some tough-looking games ahead of the play-offs which will benefit us in the long-term .
''We will have a single-minded approach to the derby and hope the result goes our way.''
He added: ''Since I've been here, I have learned what the rivalry means, not only to the players but the fans you talk to in town. You can call it a little hatred or just mutual respect for each other and just adds to the excitement of the occasion.''
Prop forward Alex Walmsley is almost certain to be a thorn in Wigan's side as he makes the 250th appearance of his career and needs one Super League match to reach 200 at St Helens between 2013 and 2021.
Mark Percival also needs three tries to reach 100 for his career (95 for St Helens and two for England).
Meanwhile Wigan’s veteran half-back Thomas Leuluai has been ruled out for the rest of the season with a hamstring tear, raising fears he may have played his last match.
The 36-year-old former New Zealand international, who is in his second spell with the Warriors, signed a new 12-month contract at the end of the 2020 season as he contemplated retirement.
Leuluai has been promised a place on the club’s backroom team when he hangs up his boots and must now decide whether to follow former captain Sean O’Loughlin into the coaching ranks in 2022.
“That’s a decision he would need to make,” said coach Adrian Lam. “He was playing some pretty good rugby before his injury.
“It’s a severe tear and it takes him past the Grand Final final date by a week. It’s a massive blow in terms of his importance and the role he plays for the club.
“He’s our greatest leader here and a really popular member of the group. We’re a different group when he’s not there.
“We will have to share that leadership around and Harry Smith will now have to take the last two months of rugby under his belt and step forward with it.
“The club are shattered but we have to get on with it. It’s another blow to us, another key spine player we’ve lost, but we’re used to it. We can’t dwell on it.
“He’s going to be working hard on his rehab and we will use him in some capacity. He will still be here with me in the dressing room.”
Wigan also have a major doubt over hooker Sam Powell for Friday’s derby with St Helens after he sustained a head knock in the defeat at Hull KR.
But second rower John Bateman is set to return after sitting out the last match through illness and prop Oliver Partington will be back from suspension.