OUR Rugby League correspondent Kaine Greenwood (@RetroPress) takes a look at Thursday night’s clash between Wigan and Widnes.
Wigan Warriors v Widnes Vikings | Thursday 20:00 | Sky Sports 2
Widnes’ demolition job of Hull FC in the last round had everybody who wanted to pour cold water over their longer term credentials reaching for the tap and tightening up a little.
The Sky commentary were eulogising, throwing out names of famous former sons with regularity and, after an early tide of pressure against them, the 1984 Cup winners ran hot.
It was the Widnes and Wigan sides of the 1980′s that dominated the landscape of the sport and the early stages of the season have taken us back a decade or two.
This tie between Wigan and Widnes is a rather familiar one for most of the rugby league fraternity – it is historically the most-played tie in the Chemics books and has a strong meaning to both sets of supporters.
Of the last 20 clashes between these old enemies the Warriors have had the number of Dennis Betts’ side on no less than 15 occasions. Widnes’ last on-the-road triumph came way back in ’03 yet, at 5-0-1, the Vikings shape up for this swimming against all expectation at the top of the tree.
It wasn’t until the hour mark that the DW saw a surge from the home side take the game away from opponents Leeds last week and, although impressive when things clicked, Wigan were similarly rusty in attacking forays as had been the case in their opening four victories.
The current number six, George Williams, missed the tussle with the Rhinos after pulling up with a back problem in the warm-up but should be slotted straight back into the line-up to try and continue on those successes over a longer stint than we have seen heading into this.
Prior to last season’s 20-10 victory the Grand Final’s runners-up had experienced a period where they did sweep aside Widnes in such a fashion: 48-4, 48-4, 62-4 and 54-10 scorelines were all recorded on their own patch. However, those victories were largely built on a heavy half-time advantage.
A number of the visiting side will head out on to the park knowing the task ahead of them as former members of a Cherry and White jersey. Should the likes of Kevin Brown and Joe Mellor – at the heart of performances so far – allow Shaun Wane’s side early control then experience may take hold and highlight why the vistors have yet to record four straight league victories since a return to Super League under the licensing system.
Attacking threat has been the name of the game in the Vikings’ six fixtures and a number of players have been at the forefront of putting on at least 20 points on each match-day so the threat is certainly there.
After defeat away to Salford, the league leaders have bounced back with three straight double-digit margins of victory, Corey Thompson has also celebrated a try 10 times in the first half-dozen – 11/10 with Coral do so at Wigan – and scrum-half Joe Mellor along with full-back Rhys Handbury have each crossed on four occasions.
Stefan Marsh, however, has almost matched the form of Aussie teammate Thompson yet could be perceived as the lesser threat for Wane’s side to contend with of the two flanks. He has himself amassed eight four-pointers, assuming a role on the wing (from centre) like a duck to water.
Ladbrokes are prepared to take on this form and offer juicy odds-against. With the feeling Wigan’s defence could take on more water than last week this is too good to turn down at a quote of 6/4, even if it sinks.
Bearing in mind Widnes have yet to ship over 30 points this season and, in current form, possess the best backline test of the Warriors defences it is also fair to suggest they will keep things closer than previous occasions. The handicap gives us a 14-point start and represents a three-score margin that is cushion enough for support.
Wigan Warriors v Widnes Vikings – Stefan Marsh Anytime Tryscorer (6/4 Ladbrokes)
Wigan Warriors v Widnes Vikings – Widnes Vikings +14 (4/5 Ladbrokes)
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