Super League: Wigan Warriors v Salford Red Devils preview
Last Updated: 31/07/14 7:45pm
Reigning Super League champions Wigan Warriors will bid to close the gap on leaders St Helens when they host Salford Red Devils at the DW Stadium on Thursday.
A shock 16-8 reverse at the hands of the already-relegated Bradford Bulls last weekend saw Shaun Wane’s troops lose pace with rivals Saints, who now hold a four-point advantage over the third-placed Warriors.
It was a result which left an infuriated Wane having sleepless nights and the Wigan coach has demanded significant strides towards improvement with only five rounds of regular season action left to play.
The Warriors will hope to reduce their arrears and temporarily move level with Leeds Rhinos, who face West Yorkshire neighbours Bradford Bulls on Friday, in order to keep their hopes of claiming the League Leaders’ Shield alive.
Similarly, time is of the essence for the Red Devils as their quest for a Super League playoff spot reaches a crucial juncture.
Salford coach Iestyn Harris was stung by former team Leeds last Friday, with the Rhinos running out 22-18 victiors on the night and subsequently opening a gulf of four points between the Red Devils and Widnes in the all-important eighth place.
"We've got five games left and, unless we win five out of five, I don't think we're going to have a chance of getting in the top eight," said Harris.
"So it's a game we'll go into with real energy and excitement about challenging the double winners."
While the Red Devils did string together a sequence of three successive victories prior to their Rhinos reverse, history does not favour Harris’ men with Wigan undefeated in the last five meetings.
Thursday evening’s televised fixture will see the eagerly-anticipated return of Joel Tomkins with the dual-code international set to make a second Wigan debut following his foray into rugby union with Saracens.
Tomkins returned to training with the Warriors six weeks ago and after overcoming a back injury is delight to be back in the fray.
"I've tried to just come in and work as hard as I can since I came back to the club,” he told the club’s official website. “It's great to be named in the squad and I can't wait to pull that famous jersey on once again."
Tomkins is one of two changes to the Warriors side which fell to the Bulls last time out, with Anthony Gelling set for a return to action in place of the injured Darrell Goulding.
"I've taken my time with Joel,” Wane admitted. “He was probably ready a week ago and he's been very keen to play but I wouldn't put him in unless I thought he was definitely ready to play.
"He's been training really well, his skills are very good. He's done a fair bit of wrestle so he's back into it again. I'm not expecting great things for a few weeks but he's going to be a good asset to us, he's a big unit on an edge and is very skilful as he has shown in the past.”
Meanwhile, Harris has named an unchanged Red Devils squad for the short trip to Wigan, with Australian full-back Kevin Locke shrugging off the knock he picked up against Leeds.
The former NRL star was withdrawn at half-time following the recurrence of a groin injury but has overcome the niggle to feature in the 19-man travelling party.
Wigan Warriors: Bateman, Bowen, Charnley, Clubb, Crosby, Dudson, Farrell, Flower, Gelling, Hughes, James, Manfredi, O'Loughlin, Powell, Sarginson, Smith, Taylor, Tomkins, Williams
Salford Red Devils: Ashurst, Caton-Brown, Chase, Evalds, Fages, D Griffin, J Griffin, Hansen, Johnson, Lee, Locke, Morley, Puletua, Rapira, Sa’u, Tasi, Tomkins, Walne, Walton