St Helens ready for Warrington challenge
There was a time in the formative days of Super League when Warrington Wolves couldn't buy a win over St Helens for love or money, losing the first 12 matches of the summer era against their neighbours and a further 22 between 2001 and 2011.
The boot, however, has been on the other foot in the past few years with the Wire winning the last three clashes, including the 2019 Challenge Cup Final at Wembley.
But Saints will be hoping to buck a growing trend when the two meet at the Totally Wicked Stadium tonight (Thursday) and put pressure on their title rivals.
Head coach Kristian Woolf said: ''It has the makings of an outstanding fixture and we are all excited about it. Warrington are a strong side and have quality players across the park and it represents a big challenge to us."
The champions have the chance to go back to the top of the table but coach Woolf is also anticipating the title fight to go down to the wire.
Like Saints, Catalans Dragons and Wigan have lost only one league game so far but Woolf says there are a host of other serious challengers in what he expects will be the most competitive title race for years.
“I remember making a comment at the start of the season that most teams had improved and it was going to be a stronger competition,” he said.
“I think that’s exactly what we’re seeing at the moment. You look at Catalans and Warrington but there’s Hull, ourselves, Wigan, a number of teams are travelling well at the top.
“But you’re also seeing Leigh involved in a real contest at the weekend – as they were against us – and Wakefield are a bit healthier after strengthening this year and think that’s the case across the board.
“It’s obviously what you want in terms of professional sport at the elite level, you want 12 teams that are really competitive and you want six or seven teams that can all be playing finals footy.
“I think that’s what we’re getting at the moment and it’s really exciting for the fans.”
Warrington stand-off Blake Austin is relishing the prospect of another derby and says his team will go into it in good form.
“We’re building steadily,” he said. “We’ve found a bit of rhythm in attack and we’re comfortable with where we’re at.”
Austin identifies his opposite number Jonny Lomax as the chief danger to his side’s hopes of a fourth-successive league win.
“Lomax is the key,” he said. “If you can negate a chunk of him, it will go a long way to helping the team out. The homework has been done.
“It’s a shame we’re not going to have a full house and I’m sure the Saints fans will make it as hostile as possible.”
Austin, who was dropped by coach Steve Price earlier in the season, is thriving off the back of his half-back partnership with Gareth Widdop, whose sparkling form earned him a recall to the England squad after a disappointing year in 2020.
“He was always going to come good because he’s a class player,” Woolf said. “He’s a big threat for them tomorrow.
“But we can’t worry solely about Gareth Widdop because Blake Austin is a threat, Stefan Ratchford is a threat, Daryl Clark is a threat, Toby King is a threat, they’ve got a lot of threats right across the park.”
The rise in the number of covid cases is also a worrying trend and already affecting RL fixtures.
Woolf added: "The situation is extremely concerning, not only for our sport but the local community in general.
''We have to keep on top of it and be careful about our behaviour and look after ourselves . As a group, we did a terrific job and that's why we didn't have much disruption around covid, which came off the back of discipline.
ST HELENS v WARRINGTON WOLVES
Last 10 meetings:
St Helens 18, Warrington 20 (CCQF, 19/9/20)
(at AJ Bell Stadium, Salford)
Warrington 19, St Helens 0 (SLR2, 6/2/20)
St Helens 4, Warrington 18 (CCF, 24/8/19)
(at Wembley Stadium)
Warrington 12, St Helens 30 (SLR25, 8/8/19)
Warrington 10, St Helens 21 (SLR20, 28/6/19)
St Helens 38, Warrington 12 (SLR10, 12/4/19)
St Helens 13, Warrington 18 (SLSF, 4/10/18)
Warrington 14, St Helens 34 (SLS8-R6, 22/9/18)
St Helens 14, Warrington 12 (SLR23, 26/7/18)
Warrington 12, St Helens 30 (SLR5, 9/3/18)
Super League summary
St Helens won 51 (includIing wins in 2010 and 2012 play-offs)
Warrington won 15 (including wins in 2012, 2016 and 2018 play-offs)
St Helens highest score: 72-2 (h, 2002 and also widest margin)
Warrington highest score: 56-22 (h, 2001 and also widest margin).
James Roby needs one appearance to draw level with Rob Burrow in seventh place in the list of Super League's all-time leaders.
How they stand:Kevin Sinfield 454, Andy Lynch 452, Paul Wellens 439,Jamie Peacock 438, Leon Pryce 432,Ben Westwood 430, Rob Burrow 429.,
James Roby 428. Danny Tickle 419, Keith Senior 413.
TOMMY MAKINSON needs two tries to reach 150 for his career - 141 for St Helens (2011-2021), 3 for Rochdale Hornets (2013, dual-registration), 4 for England (2018)
LACHLAN COOTE needs nine points to reach 500 (Super League) - 491 for St Helens (2019-2021 including play-offs & Super League Super 8s)