Wane wary of Wellens
Wigan Warriors coach Shaun Wane has identified evergreen St Helens captain Paul Wellens as the biggest obstacle to his team's attempt to reclaim top spot in First Utility Super League.
The reigning champions were knocked off the top last Sunday when Saints took advantage of their surprise defeat at Wakefield Trinity Wildcats to leapfrog them into pole position and that has added extra spice to one of Super League's most eagerly-awaited clashes.
Wane was elated about his side's 33-14 win at Langtree Park on Good Friday which shattered St Helens' 100 per cent start to the season and he has now set his sights on completing the double in front of his own fans at the DW Stadium.
"I had to work hard last week to get my team fired up but this week has been easy because it's St Helens and with the feeling between both clubs, while we have a lot of respect for each other, we both want to win the game really badly," Wane said.
"The last time we played them, they were unbeaten and we were really pleased to go there and do that to them. And it's the same again, they're top of the league and they won't want to lose to a Wigan team that is pretty busted at the minute.
"This is a Grand Final to us and it's the same for St Helens. There is pressure for both teams."
Saints are still striving for consistency under Nathan Brown but they were back to their best last Sunday with a 38-16 win over Castleford Tigers, with Wellens producing a man-of-the-match display as he slotted back effortlessly into his old full-back role in the absence of his injured successor Jonny Lomax.
Wane has also singled out Australian scrum-half Luke Walsh and England hooker James Roby as the players his side need to contain but it is the 34-year-old Wellens who commands so much of his respect that he rates him as highly as his own inspirational captain Sean O'Loughlin.
"I'm a massive fan of Paul Wellens for what he does on and off the field," Wane said. "He's a great ambassador for the sport and he's a real competitor. This game will mean a lot to him.
"He's at the back end of his career but that's what you get with competitive people. They just turn up and want to score and win games.
"It's like Lockers. I put him in the same bracket as Lockers, which is a massive rap for Paul Wellens, but he's a player I admire that much."
Saints are boosted by the return from suspension of prop Alex Walmsley as they bid to open up a four-point lead on their arch rivals going into the home straight.
"We're looking forward to the derby," Brown said. "The intensity is higher and it is usually a higher quality game than most other Super League matches.
"The local Saints and Wigan lads look forward to it in particular and there is a lot of good rivalry there.
"They beat us physically last time and we know they can start quite well. They started better than us, we fought back and then their start was better in the second half. We need to start better and be hungrier.
"A win will give us a four-point break from Wigan but they can come level with us. It should be a great game."
Wigan have O'Loughlin back, along with full-back Matty Bowen, but they are without England trio Liam Farrell, Michael McIlorum and Josh Charnley through injury and suspension and Wane is set to give a debut to 19-year-old stand-off Jamie Doran as he looks for a response to their disappointing performance at Wakefield.
"We lost the game with ill-discipline and it won't happen again," Wane added. "We lost two points which were very important to me and the players are aware of that."