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‘It sells itself’ – Saints and Wigan set for another Good Friday blockbuster

It is 20 years since St Helens and Wigan Warriors met in one of the most infamous Good Friday derbies of the Super League era. Two decades on from that clash at Knowsley Road, the rivalry remains as intense as it did before or since.

The game itself ended in a dramatic 21-21 draw, with Sean Long’s late drop goal earning Saints a share of the spoils and cancelling out an earlier one-pointer from Wigan icon Andy Farrell.

Yet it is the second-half all-in brawl, which erupted when Jon Wilkin and Terry Newton started scrapping after a tackle, that has proven to be the most enduring memory.

It is also a moment which has been used to encapsulate the rivalry between the two teams from the opposite sides of Billinge Hill ever since and St Helens head coach Paul Wellens, who lined up for his hometown club at full-back that day in 2004, knows as well as anyone what these games mean.

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Check out some of the 10 most memorable moments from Good Friday derbies between St Helens and Wigan Warriors, including the infamous 2004 brawl

“It’s Wigan on Good Friday – it sells itself,” Wellens said ahead of this year’s showdown at the Totally Wicked Stadium. “Fans and players can’t wait for the game to come around.

“It’s the fixture you draw a circle around at the start of every year, and we are always excited about the challenge.

“It’s two teams who have achieved a lot of success in recent history, and a lot of that comes from knowing how to handle big games and big moments, and how to channel your emotion in the right way.

“This is the big game in British rugby league. We have Grand Finals and Challenge Cup finals, but after those showpiece occasions, I think Saints against Wigan on Good Friday is the game everyone wants to watch.”

Picture by John Rushworth/SWpix.com - 07/04/2023 - Rugby League - Betfred Super League Round 8 - Wigan Warriors v St Helens - DW Stadium, Wigan, England - Wigan Warriors' Head Coach Matt Peet (left) and St Helens' Head Coach Paul Wellens talk before the game
Image: Head coaches Matt Peet and Paul Wellens ahead of last year’s Good Friday derby between Wigan and St Helens

Wellens played the unlikely role of peacemaker back in 2004, breaking up Great Britain captain Farrell and team-mate Paul Sculthorpe after they decided to settle a minor disagreement during that brawl as well.

For Sculthorpe, the encounter summed up how the intensity goes up a level for both teams during the Good Friday derby games.

“I would always say the Good Friday games were like a Test match,” Sculthorpe told Super League’s official website. “They were a step up from the regular Super League game.

“I always think that one, Good Friday, is extra-special.”

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Highlights of last year’s Betfred Super League Good Friday derby which saw Wigan Warriors edge out St Helens 14-8 at the DW Stadium

It was Wigan who triumphed in the Easter meeting last year though, emerging 14-8 victors on their way to claiming Grand Final glory at Old Trafford six months down the line, and make the eight-mile trip to their nearest and dearest having been crowned World Club Challenge winners in February as well.

Warriors head coach Matt Peet is not a playing veteran of these matches, but as a Wiganer and a lifelong fan of the club, not to mention someone who has spent a significant time on the coaching staff at the DW Stadium, he is attuned to the importance of these games as much as anyone else.

But while he will not discourage his players from getting drawn into the emotion of the day, he knows the visitors will have no chance of reclaiming the bragging rights from last June’s 34-16 defeat at St Helens if they do not get everything right when it comes to how they go about playing the game.

“It’s about striking a balance between the two,” Peet said. “You can’t shy away from the emotional side, but it won’t win you the game which means you’ve got to get the rugby side right.

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We take a look back at Wigan Warriors’ route to their first Betfred Super League title since 2018

“We won’t have to remind the players that this is an outstanding fixture as they are very proud individuals who will be motivated by the crowd. As coaches, we will concentrate more on the rugby approach.

“It’s completely unique which rugby league fans and people in the two towns understand.”

Watch every match of the 2024 Betfred Super League season, including Rivals Round, Magic Weekend, the play-offs, and men’s, women’s and wheelchair Grand Finals, live on Sky Sports. Also stream with NOW.

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