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Wigan and Warrington: The best of enemies

07 Jun 24, 12:18PM 0 Comments

Written by John Davidson

Photo by RFL

Friendly rivals, respectful adversaries, frenemies – call it what you will. The term fits Wigan and Warrington like a glove.

The Warriors and Wolves will do battle at Wembley this Saturday for the Challenge Cup final. Only 13.4 miles on the M6 separate the two northern teams, who have more in common with each other than apart.

Both are old clubs – Wigan 151 years old, Warrington 148 years old – from working-class communities and the two have playing against each other regularly since 1873. But the real rivalry between them is more recent, and more calm, then say Wigan’s intense derbies with St Helens or Warrington’s fierce matches with Widnes, or even arguably Saints.

The Warriors vs Wolves contest has been contemporary, marked by the 2018, 2016 and 2013 Super League grand finals – all won by Wigan. The last time the two sides met at Wembley was back in 1990, and again the Cherry & Whites prevailed, making the desperation for success this weekend even greater for the Wire.

But these contests have been marked generally by respect and admiration, not by great hatred or intense dislike. This is no bitter Lancashire version of State of Origin.

The theme of mutual respect continues today.

“They’re just together, aren’t they?” Wigan coach Matty Peet says when asked about Warrington this season.

“Warrington’s squad’s always had good players, but I just feel now they’ve got a resilience and a defensive focus. They’ve got belief – they believe in one another, they believe in the coach.

“It’s powerful isn’t it? I feel it’s going to be a massive challenge, and going forward as well. It’s already two good clubs with a lot of respect for each other, but I think it could have some exciting games against each other. There’s a lot of mutual respect between the two clubs.”

Familiar faces are sprinkled through each club. Many Wiganers and ex-Warriors players are evident in the Warrington set-up, from club CEO Karl Fitzpatrick to Sam Powell, Toby King, George Williams, Matty Nicholson and Joe Bullock, while Wigan have ex-Warrington front-rower Mike Cooper in their ranks.

The two clubs are also working closely to try and stage a historic Super League match in Las Vegas next year as part of the NRL’s American assault.

“It’s an interesting one with Wigan, we’ve got a fantastic relationship with them,” Fitzpatrick confirms.

“We’re very close with Kris [Radlinski] and likewise at senior level with the chairmen and owners. But yeah there’s that incredible rivalry between the two organisations going back many, many years.

“We played in that unique game in Milwaukee in 1989, which was classed as a rugby league game but it was more like legalised thuggery for 80 minutes.

“There’s some history for dipping in that American market, so to revisit that again… Wigan vs Warrington in Milwaukee, Wigan vs Warrington at Wembley, maybe at Old Trafford, and then Wigan vs Warrington at Las Vegas.

“A fantastic narrative there between two fantastic, ambitious clubs. Like ourselves, Wigan are super-ambitious, they want to grow the game, and like ourselves they understand the potential of the American market.”

Wigan boss Radlinski describes his club as having a healthy but somewhat romantic rivalry with Warrington.

“All through Wigan-Warrington’s history they’ve had outstanding battles, “ he says.

“We’ve not played at Wembley since 1990, but even through this later Super League era it’s always had a certain romance to it. In think it’s a very healthy rivalry but a very respectful rivalry.

“And it’s certainly one I really enjoy and I think it’s another part of our sport that brings a lot to it… It’s respect – we need each other. Rivals need each other to create these contests and spectacles to watch, which ultimately drive revenue and is ultimately why we’re here.

“They’re a good club and I’m looking forward to this week with them.”

Wigan have had the edge historically, over the years, winning 101 of the 165 matches been played between the two of them. But that may count for little come Wembley.

Under Sam Burgess Warrington have been rejuvenated and are becoming more confident each week. They smashed St Helens and then Huddersfield to book their place in the Cup final.

Burgess and his players will be itching to lift the Cup in London.

Regardless of the strong bonds and respect between the two clubs, expect no quarter to be asked nor any given this weekend.

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