Super League champions Wigan take on Million Pound Game winners Salford on Saturday at the AJ Bell Stadium. Both teams have seen many ins and outs this off-season – although I’d personally argue both sides have strengthened significantly. The returning Joe Burgess and Tommy Leuluai should prove great additions to the champions squad, meanwhile Salford have brought in former NRL star Todd Carney and ex-Wigan player Lee Mossop. This may well give the game an extra bit of spice, especially with Mossop only recently making the move to the Red Devils.
You could argue that, despite Wigan winning the Grand Final in 2016, they missed a bit of flair throughout last season – I believe the signing of Morgan Escar could well supply Shaun Wane with the answer to this issue. The former Catalans Dragons full-back possesses quick feet and instinctive thinking which will give the Warriors an outlet outside of their normal structures.
Salford have had a successful pre-season, with three wins out of three against Hull FC, Halifax and Rochdale. Ian Watson will be hoping to carry this good run of form into the new season and their first game at home to Wigan. The cherry and whites’ have had a bumpy pre-season, with two losses against Leigh Centurions and London Skolars. They did however field a young squad in those two defeats and when more experience was added for the friendly against Catalan, they came up with the win on French soil.
One big question is whether Wigan will have one eye on the game next week against NRL Champions Cronulla Sharks in the World Club Challenge. Shaun Wane has not rested any players for Saturday’s game which signals that the Warriors are focused on Salford and not for Cronulla for the moment. Salford will want to get off to a bang too and you may see a very spirited and strongly bonded side after going through a struggle last year. I am sure Salford will want to be in headlines for the right reasons this season, with no off-the-field issues.
We saw last season that Salford are capable of upsets and without the six-point deduction they would have been in the Super 8s rather than the Qualifiers and ultimately the Million Pound Game. Last season’s fixture between these sides at the AJ Bell Stadium served us a cracker of a game, with the Wigan prevailing 23-20 in the July clash. It was a close fought game to the end and I expect much the same again in their Betfred Super League opener this Saturday.
Salford squad: A Walne, Kopczak, O’Brien. Griffin, Johnson, J Walne, Wood, Sa’u, Carney, Welham, Brining, Tasi, Mossop, Flanagan, Dobson, Evalds, Krasniqi, Lui, Lannon.
Wigan squad: Bateman, Burgess, Clubb, Escaré, Farrell, Flower, Gelling, Gildart, Isa, Leuluai, Marshall, Nuuausala, O’Loughlin, Powell, Sutton, Tautai, Tierney, J Tomkins, Williams.