The right Pryce can guide Wigan to derby win

Click to follow
The Independent Online

If Wigan coaches are traditionally judged by how their sides fare against St Helens, then Michael Maguire can ensure continued local popularity for himself this evening.

From the day of his arrival in the town, the Australian heard that old mantra: "It doesn't matter what you do, as long as you beat Saints."

If Wigan do so for the second time this season, they will be eight points clear of their oldest rivals. There will, of course, always be the chance for Saints to salvage the situation in the play-offs, but they will be most unlikely to be able to prevent Wigan finishing ahead of them at the end of the regular season for the first time since 2004.

In front of a 20,000 crowd at the DW Stadium today, the Warriors will be without Sean O'Loughlin, their captain and man of the match when they won 18-10 at Knowsley Road on Good Friday.

O'Loughlin came safely through England's victory over France last Saturday, but strained a quad muscle in the process of scoring an early try at Wakefield the following day.

That obviously calls into question whether it was really such a good idea to try to get a second game in 24 hours out of him, although the Tomkins brothers, Sam and Joel, emerged unscathed and are in today's squad, along with O'Loughlin's replacement, the highly promising Liam Farrell.

The cousin of the legendary Andy has shown up well on his appearances since making his debut earlier this season and he has clearly benefited from a loan spell at Widnes.

The experience and influence of O'Loughlin, however, is difficult to replace and is one reason why Saints might quietly fancy their chances.

They have James Graham and James Roby back from international duty but, despite rumours coming out of their camp, Mick Potter has not named Kyle Eastmond in his 19-man squad. The half-back missed the Test with an ankle injury, but is said to be ahead of schedule in his recovery.

Another intriguing aspect is the way it will bring the Pryce brothers into opposition, with Leon edging back towards his best form at Saints and Karl enjoying a good run of try-scoring on the Wigan left wing.

Saints, and Francis Meli in particular, will aim to put him under more defensive pressure than he has been subjected to in some of his games since securing his place in the team, but the younger Pryce has shown that there is nothing wrong with his close-range finishing.

Elsewhere in Super League today, Hull, who have sneaked almost unnoticed into fourth place, have the opportunity to keep up the good work at Huddersfield. Their closest rivals, Leeds, are at home to Crusaders, who had the disappointing news this week that their accomplished scrum-half, Michael Witt, will miss the rest of the season with knee ligament damage.