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Super League: Widnes Vikings v Wigan Warriors preview
Reigning Super League campaigns Wigan Warriors will aim to close the gap on leaders St Helens with a Friday night trip to face rivals Widnes Vikings at the Select Security Stadium.
Shaun Wane’s Warriors currently trail Saints by three points with three rounds of regular season action to play before the destination of the League Leaders’ Shield is confirmed.
However, after a run of three successive victories at the start of July, Wigan have begun to waver with defeat to the relegated Bradford Bulls and a draw with Hull KR sandwiching their triumph over the Salford Red Devils in Round 23.
While Wigan are bidding to dethrone the Saints and be crowned minor premiers, Widnes are yet to seal their place in the Super League knockout stages.
"I understand that Widnes have pinpointed this game as a must win and we are exactly the same, so it has the makings of a really tough encounter,” Wane told the club’s official website.
“I want us to start well with a fast pace as when we do that we normally perform well. We have three really tough games left, but I am glad about that as we will be battle hardened going into the play-offs.
“I want us to win all three games and I want us to win them the Wigan Way. If we can do that then we will go into the end of season fixtures full of confidence."
Denis Betts’ men boast only a two-point advantage over ninth-placed Hull KR in the final playoff place and history does not favour a home victory on Friday.
The Warriors have prevailed in the five previous meetings between the sides, meaning the Vikings must buck their losing trend if they are to edge closer to securing a top-eight finish.
Ahead of Wigan’s arrival Betts has made two changes to his 19-man squad, with centre Cameron Phelps replacing winger Jack Owens and Alex Gerrard coming in as a straight swap for prop Paul Johnson.
Meanwhile, there are welcome returns for Wigan duo Michael McIlorum (broken arm) and Iain Thornley (torn pectoral) after lengthy spells on the sidelines.
McIlorum has been out of action since the Widnes home fixture back in June whilst Thornley returns to the side for his first appearance since Good Friday when the Warriors recorded a 33-14 win over St Helens.
Widnes Vikings: Ah Van, Allen, Brown, Cahill, Carberry, Clarke, Dean, Flynn, Galea, Gerrard, Hanbury, Joseph, Leuluai, Marsh, Mellor, O'Carroll, Phelps, Tickle, White
Wigan Warriors: Bateman, Charnley, Clubb, Crosby, Doran, Dudson, L. Farrell, Gelling, Green, Hughes, James, Manfredi, McIlorum, O'Loughlin, Pettybourne, Sarginson, Smith, Taylor, Thornley
First Utility Super League Table
|5||Hull K R||0||0|
|7||Salford Red Devils||0||0|
|First Utility Super League|
|Thursday 5th February|
|20:00||Widnes vs Wigan|
|Friday 6th February|
|20:00||St Helens vs Catalans Dragons|
|Saturday 7th February|
|15:00||Warrington vs Salford|
|Sunday 8th February|
|15:00||Huddersfield vs Hull|
|15:00||Hull K R vs Leeds|
|15:30||Castleford vs Wakefield|
|Thursday 12th February|
|20:00||Salford vs St Helens|
|Friday 13th February|
|20:00||Hull vs Warrington|
|20:00||Leeds vs Widnes|
|20:00||Wigan vs Huddersfield|
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