Warrington v Wigan: Key battles in Friday's Super 8s clash
By Tom Mordey | Twitter: @TomMordey |
Last Updated: 16/09/16 8:22pm
There are two rounds of fixtures remaining in the Super League Super 8s and for Warrington, just one win needed.
The league leaders' shield is within their sights for the first time since 2011. But to lift the Hubcap, there's just one thing blocking the Wolves' path: Wigan Warriors.
Here are three head to heads that might decide Friday's game, live on Sky Sports 2:
Ben Currie v John Bateman
Shaun Wane called it an England showdown in the back row on Friday and Wayne Bennett will certainly be casting a few glances towards the Halliwell Jones Stadium.
Ben Currie is one name who will surely feature in the Four Nations. He earned a call-up to Steve McNamara's side last season against New Zealand and although he didn't play, his 2016 form is screaming for inclusion.
Ben Currie v John Bateman
On tries alone, Currie impresses. His tally of 16 this season is just one behind Ryan Atkins in the Wolves ranks and although he couldn't poach that match-winner at Wembley, he did make amends away at Catalans the week after.
Currie has also notched up 2563 metres at an average gain of 8.21 a drive. His 33 offloads are the best in the side, while his 705 tackles rank third in the Warrington statistics. Throw in 13 try assists and you have got a genuine all-rounder hitting his straps week after week.
John Bateman might have a thing or two to say about England's second row selection. He may have blotted his copybook with that mid-season indiscretion, but on form alone Bateman is one of Super League's best.
He has a big part to play in defence; his 647 tackles this season is the fourth best for Wigan while he isn't afraid to take the ball up either, putting in 366 carries for 2630 metres at an average gain of 7.19 a drive.
Bateman has also thrown 53 offloads this season, the best in Wigan colours, but also the second best in Super League behind only Ashton Sims.
With nine tries to Bateman's name, Currie isn't the only free-scoring forward on display on Friday night. Don't bet against the Wigan second-rower adding to that tally.
Kurt Gidley v George Williams
This game could be decided in the halves with both sides offering different threats from the playmaking positions.
Chris Sandow has won plenty of plaudits for his role in Warrington's march towards the league leaders' shield but alongside him, Kurt Gidley is a calming influence. His injury in the Challenge Cup final helped change the momentum of the game and the Wolves did well to win in France without him a week later.
Gidley returned for the win over Widnes and his experience will be vital in the run-in. He has provided 14 try assists this season, not quite the sensational 25 of team-mate Sandow, but an impressive effort all the same.
Gidley has also weighed in with 86 attacking kicks, sharing the playmaking load with Sandow. He never won the NRL with Newcastle, not featuring in the 17 that won the 2001 Grand Final, so can Gidley make up for that and help the Wolves to Super League glory?
Kurt Gidley v George Williams
Opposite Gidley is a player with quite different qualities, a young livewire of a half-back already hitting top heights in Super League.
George Williams is a special talent. He is another player Wayne Bennett will be watching closely, having already earned international experience last season against New Zealand.
You only have to look at Williams' try against Hull FC last week to highlight his danger with ball in hand. Taking the ball at first receiver, Williams skipped through the Black and White defence before outpacing Jamie Shaul to touch down. A moment of individual brilliance, and one of seven tries he's scored in 2016.
Williams has also provided 16 try assists this season, the most in Wigan colours, proving he's capable of stepping into that key role as a playmaker. Will we see more of that come Friday night?
Ashton Sims v Frank-Paul Nu'uausala
Both sides will need plenty of quick ball to set a platform for the backs so the front rows will be crucial.
It's a chance for two former NRL props to lock horns once again. Frank-Paul Nu'uausala is still wet behind the ears in terms of Super League experience but he knows all about lifting the big prize, having experienced NRL glory with the Sydney Roosters in 2013.
Wigan need that sort of big-game knowhow in their pack and their new front-rower is already showing what he can do.
Ashton Sims v Frank-Paul Nuuausala
Nu'uausala averages 8.22 metres per drive with ball in hand, the best for any Wigan forward so far this season. Expect that figure to stay above the eight-metre mark, even in the run-in, as Frank-Paul tries to live up to his nickname of 'The Wrecking Ball'.
He'll have a tough battle on his hands against Warrington's front row, but having made his first start in the Cherry and White last week, expect Nu'uausala to be leading the fight in the forwards.
Warrington have one of the best front rows in the competition. While Chris Hill skippers from the front, he's ably supported by Ashton Sims. And Sims will be looking to get on top of fellow NRL import Nu'uausala.
Sims' figures don't quite match up to Hill's, 2382 metres gained so far at an average drive of 6.65m, while he's made 701 tackles, the fourth best in the Wolves side.
But one area Sims excels in is the offload. He's unloaded 63 times in the tackle this season, 10 more times than anyone else in Super League and a whopping 30 more than any Warrington team-mate, despite Tony Smith's expansive style of rugby.
Sims and Hill help lay the platform for Warrington's dazzling backs and expect them to keep doing the same on Friday.
Watch Warrington v Wigan live on Sky Sports 2 HD on Friday from 7.30pm. Catch the match for £6.99 on NOW TV. No contract.