Plenty to gain from the Clash of the Warriors
The Warriors can expect a tough hit-out from Wigan's strongest lineup in their historic clash in Hamilton tonight.
Dubbed the Clash of the Warriors, the fixture at Waikato Stadium is the New Zealand-based Warriors' second NRL pre-season trial, while it is the Wigan Warriors' only warm-up match on tour ahead of next Saturday's World Club Challenge against the Roosters in Sydney.
Having touched down from England on Monday, the Wigan team travelled straight to Hamilton, and had a training at the stadium yesterday, as they acquaint themselves with the summery conditions that are far from the bitter winter back home.
It has been a whirlwind travel schedule for them, with the defending Super League champions having opened their campaign with a 24-8 loss at home to Huddersfield last weekend.
But rather than rest up his top charges, coach Shaun Wane is keen to get his best players firing ahead of next weekend's game.
"It's perfect for us, that week and a half before the game, we'll have a lot of time to get the players ready, any niggles we can get rid of," he said.
"We'll start off with our best team tomorrow [tonight] and a few of the fringe players will want to get a chance to put their names down to play in the Sydney Roosters game as well, so everybody tomorrow [tonight] will be desperate to put on a good performance, which will make it a great game."
There are question marks over England internationals Michael McIlorum and Sean O'Loughlin, who both have hamstring injuries, but are likely to take the field tonight.
The visitors, who also last season won the Challenge Cup knockout competition, might have lost star fullback Sam Tomkins to tonight's rivals, but younger brother Logan is still in their ranks, and they have picked up former NRL and State of Origin fullback Matt Bowen and New Zealand-born former NRL forward Eddy Pettybourne.
Wane has a "great affinity" with New Zealand and has plenty of friends here, including former team-mate Dean Bell - now the Warriors' General Manager Football Operations - who last night presented the Wigan players their jerseys.
"It's a country I love. It's nice and fresh here and good nature and things I appreciate," Wane said.
"We're going to fit into how people do things round here. And it's important, I want my players to understand the culture and appreciate what a great country this is."
The home side, who will bus down from Auckland this afternoon, will field a far stronger side than the one which lost to the Gold Coast Titans in their opening trial on the North Shore on Sunday.
While none of the players taking part in this weekend's inaugural NRL Nines will be playing, the Warriors will have a strong forward pack led by Sam Rapira - who will skipper the side - Ben Matulino and Jacob Lillyman, while seasoned backs Jerome Ropati and Dane Nielsen are on deck, along with new five-eighth Chad Townsend, who has joined from the Cronulla Sharks.
"I think we've got the right balance. I think, for us, it's just building combinations and I suppose getting a bit of match fitness out there," said Hamilton-born and raised Rapira, who will relish playing in front of familiar faces.
"Any chance I get to go home is a good opportunity. Everyone loves it in Hamilton. We've got the Chiefs and all that down there which everyone gets behind, but when there's a league game down there, whether it's us or someone else, everyone turns out in good numbers, so I'm just glad the Warriors took it down there."
The 26-year-old will captain the team for the second time, after leading them for a competition match in Melbourne last year, and he said it was a "massive privilege" and "a good opportunity", though it wouldn't change his approach.
"I try and do my leading through what I do on the field, so I just go out and try and do my job for the boys," he said, adding there was no motivational speech prepared.
"Na I think it'll just roll off the tongue. I'm not one to plan speeches or anything. If I've got something to say it'll come out. Hopefully I don't have too much to say, everything would've been said before we get to the game."
The game will be played in 20-minute quarters and Rapira simply wants to get about 40 minutes under the belt and focus on catching the ball and making his tackles.
"Obviously the score chooses the winner, but we're not worried too much about the result. I think we just want to focus on things that we've trained and make sure that we do it under pressure and when it's needed. As long as we stick to the game plan and we do that well for the 80, you can only be happy with that. If the boys put in the effort you can't ask for any more."
Warriors: Jordan Baldwinson, David Bhana, Siliva Havili, Jacob Lillyman, Mason Lino, Sam Lisone, Ben Matulino, Dane Nielsen, John Palavi, Agnatius Paasi, Nathaniel Peteru, Sam Rapira (captain), Jerome Ropati, Michael Sio, Mason Tonks, Chad Townsend, Adam Tuimavave-Gerrard, Albert Vete, Steve Waetford.
Wigan: Matthew Bowen, Josh Charnley, Darrell Goulding, Matthew Smith, Blake Green, Michael McIlorum, Sean O'Loughlin, Eddy Pettybourne, Tony Clubb, Scott Taylor, Ben Flower, Liam Farrell, Jordan James, Gil Dudson, Sam Powell, Dom Crosby, John Bateman, Anthony Gelling, Dom Manfredi, George Williams, Ryan Hampshire, Dan Sarginson, Logan Tomkins, Greg Burke, Iain Thornley, Jack Hughes, Joe Burgess.