Young old boy relishes return

Dave Hadfield previews rugby league's keenest club rivalry

In a game where Bank Holiday derbies retain their traditional mystique, none resonates quite so insistently as St Helens versus Wigan.

And for no one does it have more significance than for a player who has moved from one side to another. So Bobby Goulding, playing for Saints against his original club for the first time, does not even attempt to classify it as "just another game".

"I've played for Wigan against Saints, but I never realised how big a game it was for the spectators until I came to St Helens," he said.

Those spectators, he has noticed, are still talking about Saints' remarkable 41-6 victory in the equivalent match two years ago. "But that is ancient history to the players," he said. "Half of us weren't even here."

Goulding has fitted so snugly into the scrum-half's role at Knowsley Road that it requires as big an effort to remember that he only arrived this summer as it does to bear in mind that, despite being at his fourth professional club, he is still only 22.

He was only a teenager, and, by his own admission, a rather immature one, when he left Wigan, despairing of forcing his way past Andy Gregory and Shaun Edwards into a regular position at scrum-half.

Edwards dogs his footsteps still, the pair of them contesting the Great Britain No 7 shirt and now meeting head-to-head in the most pivotal domestic match of the season so far.

"It's a rivalry that will probably go on for many years to come, but you can't take personal rivalries into the game without affecting your own play.

"Nor do I feel that I've anything to prove to Wigan any more. They know what I can do. At the time, I felt I had to leave and I've no regrets about leaving."

His career since has been chequered to say the least, with spells at Leeds and Widnes separating his involvement with Monday's two combatants, but Goulding has looked at home since first pulling on a Saints shirt.

Apart from a dip in confidence after the disappointment of defeat in the Ashes series, Goulding has been an inspirational figure in a Saints side extensively rebuilt over the last 12 months.

The burgeoning promise of Steve Prescott and the rapid assimilation into league of Scott Gibbs and Apollo Perelini has given them a new look since they last met Wigan. They have re-discovered the invigorating style that has always characterised them at their best, but Goulding knows that the real test will come over the next two weeks.

On top of the Boxing Day derby, Saints have a Regal Trophy quarter-final against Wigan at Central Park on 8 January.

"If we want to win things this season, these are the matches we have to take," he said. "The boys are really looking forward to both of them. Contrary to what you might imagine, everyone looks forward to playing Wigan.

"The new interpretation of the rules suits us great, because the fittest side will always win.

"We've done a lot of work over the summer with Eric Hughes and it showed in the last 20 minutes against Batley in midweek, even though they were the better side for an hour. It will work in our favour against Wigan."

Even allowing for the warm glow of collective folk memory from two years ago, that does not indicate any lessening of the respect commanded by the men from across the East Lancashire Road.

"They are still a champion side," Goulding said. "They aren't affected by losing key players like they have done this year, because they just go out and buy some more."

It may be that the major stumbling block for the rest of this season, however, is a player they sold.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Customer Relations Officer

£13000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: IT Help Desk Support

£14500 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An IT Help Desk Support individ...

Recruitment Genius: Interim HR Advisor

£27000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are going through an excitin...

Recruitment Genius: Quantity Surveyor

£37500 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Experienced Quantity Surveyor r...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

Homeless Veterans campaign

Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

Lost without a trace

But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

Confessions of a planespotter

With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

Russia's gulag museum

Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

The big fresh food con

Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

Virginia Ironside was my landlady

Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

Paris Fashion Week 2015

The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
8 best workout DVDs

8 best workout DVDs

If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

Paul Scholes column

I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable