Grand Final: St Helens v Wigan Warriors - Brian Noble's view
|First Utility Super League Grand Final|
|St Helens v Wigan Warriors|
|Venue: Old Trafford Date: Saturday, 11 October Kick-off: 18:00 BST|
|Coverage: Live commentary on BBC Radio 5 live, BBC Radio Manchester, BBC Radio Merseyside, live text commentary and score updates on the BBC Sport website, highlights on BBC Two in England, Wales and Northern Ireland on Sunday, 12 October from 17:30 BST, and from 18:00 BST in Scotland.|
Old Trafford will stage one of rugby league's fiercest derbies for the fifth time when St Helens take on Wigan Warriors in the 2014 Super League Grand Final.
Wigan have the edge in previous deciders, claiming top honours in 1992, 1997 and 2010, with Saints coming out on top in their meeting in 2000.
In Grand Finals, they are level with one victory apiece.
This season, Saints won the League Leaders' Shield despite the loss of key playmakers Luke Walsh, Jonny Lomax and the versatile Jon Wilkin, while Wigan struck form at a crucial time to see off Huddersfield and Warrington en route to Saturday's showpiece event.
BBC Sport rugby league pundit Brian Noble, a former Wigan and Great Britain coach and three-time Grand Final winner with Bradford Bulls, takes an in-depth look at Super League's biggest day of the year.
If the prospect of a Super League Grand Final was not big enough, the addition of a genuine local rivalry adds further spice to the occasion. Warriors coach Shaun Wane - a passionate Wiganer who previously played for the club - has talked about the mutual 'hatred' in the build up, while his opposite number Nathan Brown described any derby game with Wigan as being 'like finals footy come early'. This season's two regular-season meetings saw a victory apiece, with wins for the away team on both occasions.
"It's definitely a factor. When my Bradford teams played the Leeds teams it added to the intensity, with the local bragging rights among all the things that come with a derby.
"I've coached Wigan-Saints and didn't realise the size of the occasion until I went to it. Wigan-Saints traditionally is one of the original derbies but the Grand Final itself is big enough.
"It raises the temperature a little bit. They're brilliant games to play in and be a part of, to put it on the Old Trafford stage just adds to all the fabulous ingredients.
"It does raise the ante with the locals talking about it."
Wigan's end to the regular season was mildly concerning for Wane, with defeats by Bradford and Widnes added to a draw against Hull Kingston Rovers. However, the Warriors signed off with thumping home wins against Leeds and Warrington and showed their ruthlessness to beat Huddersfield and the Wolves in the play-offs. Saints were a model of consistency with 19 wins from 27 regular-season games and overcame Castleford and a shattered Catalan Dragons to reach Old Trafford.
"Wigan's form has been very good.
"You've got to be relaxed, getting there is the hard bit. Winning it though is different, as the form book goes out of the window.
"It's about being prepared to play and execute. The coaches' job, as with the staff and players, is to make sure they're ready to play."
Old heads such as Wigan captain Sean O'Loughlin and St Helens skipper Paul Wellens know all about Grand Finals but there will be some players new to the experience. Saints have home-grown talent threaded through their line-up, with Tommy Makinson - a member of the St Helens side that lost the 2011 final - Mark Percival, Josh Jones and Adam Swift all regular members of the squad. Likewise, Wigan have Joe Burgess - recently called into the England squad - and Sam Powell, while players such as Dom Crosby and Ben Flower have played in finals before for the Warriors. Recent recruits John Bateman, Tony Clubb and Dan Sarginson have been used to battling it out at the opposite end of the table with Bradford and London, but are now key components of the Wigan team.
"The core of Wigan's team is experienced but they've got a few kids who haven't been there before and it is the same for Saints.
"I suppose it comes down to who handles the occasion better."
Where will the game be won?
The match-ups between both sides are intriguing. Wellens and Matty Bowen are two experienced full-backs with international and domestic experience, wingers Makinson and Burgess are fine finishers and the packs are well-balanced, hulking masses of talent. Where Wigan have an advantage is in the halves with a settled partnership of Blake Green and ex-Saint Matty Smith, who was part of the losing St Helens side in 2010. Saints are without the aforementioned Lomax, Walsh and Wilkin, and have utilised back-rower Mark Flanagan there in the play-off games.
"The match up this weekend is mouth-watering. For me the whole outcome depends on who wins the forward battle, the forwards generally lay the platform and dictate as to what will happen on the outside.
"They've got two outstandingly talented big packs. You talk about Wigan as slight favourites but Saints are under the radar - they manufactured a new way of playing to cope with the loss of Lomax, Walsh and Wilkin and they've had success with it.
"Physically Wigan are strong, they have defended very well and their execution is good, but if Saints get on the front foot and find momentum they can click.
"It's about who copes best with the moments where it goes against you. There is an element of bounce of the ball."
Commentary of the Super League Grand Final is on BBC Radio 5 live from 18:00 BST on Saturday, with Mark Pougatch, George Riley and Leeds Rhinos hooker Rob Burrow.
BBC Sport will also be providing a live text commentary of the match from 17:30 BST.