Talking RL: This has plenty of sub-plots

Wigan players celebrate on Good Friday
Wigan players celebrate on Good Friday

THOSE who take just a passive interest in rugby league should love tonight’s derby.

The intensity will surely be dialed up a notch, the atmosphere should be charged, and there’s a prize at stake – if St Helens win, they go three points clear of Wigan.

Keiron Cunningham has proved he is as classy off the field as he was on it, typified by the way he defused the media hyperbole over the Ben Flower incident

If the Warriors win, they switch places with their fierce rivals.

It’s refreshing to hear coaches who have been weaned on this rivalry speak about what it means to get the win – rather than two bosses try and brush the fixture off as “just another two points”.

Keiron Cunningham has proved he is as classy off the field as he was on it, typified by the way he defused the media hyperbole over the Ben Flower incident.

But, like his pal Shaun Wane, will be desperate to get the win.

On the surface, it should be a cracker.

Yet look through the magnifying glass, and it takes on a whole new perspective – simply because there are so many enticing duels.

George Williams’ growing credentials will be tested by pesty Australian No.6 Travis Burns. Alex Walmsley has been in great form and is being talked of as an England candidate... how will he fare against Lee Mossop, another prop looking for Test honours?

And what about the bumper-car battle between Mose Masoe and Taulima Tautai?!

In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if several Wigan players got stuck into big Masoe... a player who can cause havoc in his ridiculously-short spells on the pitch.

But the real battle could be at No.9. Micky McIlorum has been in superb form, and has been labelled by his coach and captain as the best hooker in the country.

With former Man of Steel James Roby included in Saints’ 19-man squad, this test may go someway to deciding who is the best.

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WAKEFIELD and Castleford have moaned that the new Marquee Player Allowance will create a bigger gulf between teams at the top and bottom.

Maybe they’re right.

Those two sides don’t spend up to the current limit of £1.85m on players’ wages (clubs which have England stars are allowed up to £1.95m). And, with the marquee allowance, Wigan get to spend more, as only a proportion (£100,000) of Sam Tomkins’ salary next year will count on the cap, even though he will be paid more.

Other clubs can take advantage of the loophole, too.

Leeds, Warrington, St Helens – even Salford – may try and lure an NRL superstar, which would make it more difficult for Wakefield to beat any of them.

But, here’s the thing. We all want a more level competition, but not if the standard is going to be poor! We need to be more ambitious. We need stars in our game to drive up standards, and drag in fans, viewers and sponsors.

We need ways to stop them leaving for the bigger money on offer in the NRL and RU.

The World Club Series results showed the Super League clubs need to improve.

Yes, I want to see games which can ‘go either way’.

But not at any price.

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THE idea of taking a Wigan game ‘on the road’ is not new.

There were rumours of a home match at the Etihad before the Magic Weekend was taken there, and Ian Lenagan said ages ago he wanted to take a game to London.

It will surely divide opinion. It’s hard not to empathise with season ticket holders who want to watch their team play home games at home – not 200 miles away.

Bigger picture, I’m a believer that Wigan, and rugby league, need to push the boundaries. Other competitions take games elsewhere – NFL, NBA, UFC, NRL – to increase their profile and their health. A sport aiming to stay still will go backwards.

But this needs to be done right. Supporters need appropriate warning, maybe even free coach travel.

Attracting new fans is important – but so is satisfying existing fans as well.

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MY colleague Paul Kendrick is a good fella and a very fair journalist. But I wouldn’t have been shocked if, when the Warriors saw him at Huddersfield on Sunday, they gave a resigned: “Not you again!”

The previous RL game he had covered for me, Warriors were stuffed at Castleford. The one before that, they lost at Bradford. Yes, relegated Bradford. Seriously.

Thankfully, on Sunday, his run as Wigan’s jinx officially came to an end – in style!