Rugby League: Hughes has a score to settle

Eric Hughes will keep the personal separate from the professional, unless, and until, his new team beat his old team at Central Park this afternoon. Hughes, sacked as coach by St Helens and now entrusted by Wigan with restoring their supremacy over their old rivals, admits that victory today would be deeply satisfying.

He said: "I would dearly love to beat Saints. I would be the happiest man in the league. I would stick two fingers up at two or three people."

Outside the sphere of personal vindication, Hughes can see the broader significance of today's derby. If Wigan, having struggled in their opening fixtures against Halifax and Castleford, can sneak a win over Saints then, when the team strengthening (that began with yesterday's signing of Tony Smith) is complete, they will once more look like potential Super League champions.

Their early games have demonstrated the spirit is willing, and Saints' coach, Shaun McRae, is one who believes that Wigan must start favourites.

He said: "We have not beaten Wigan at Central Park for eight years and they have not lost a league game there to anyone for three years. We are more topical, through being in the public eye, and we are confident going into the game - but I can't see how we are the favourites."

Hughes admits to still feeling a connection when he sees a Saints side that was largely his creation reaching the heights he always expected for it.

Virtually all today's St Helens side were either signed or groomed by him and the last signing he made for the club has a key role to play, with 18-year-old Lee Briers continuing to deputise for the suspended Bobbie Goulding.

McRae, for his part, has always been careful to give due credit for Hughes for the talent he assembled at the club and his role in nurturing it.

There is another area of disagreement between the two, however. McRae, Australian-born, threw his hat into the ring this week for the Great Britain coaching job, should it become vacant when Phil Larder's contract expires in June.

Hughes begs to differ with his successor at Knowsley Road. He said: "I'm a proud Brit and I'm conservative on this subject. I believe that the Great Britain team should be made up of British players, coached by a Briton."

We will never know whether a Briton would have been as successful at Saints as an Australian has proved to be, but, should Wigan win today, Hughes will feel he has made a point.

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