Ahead of Tuesday’s derby clash between Wigan and St Helens, I have attempted to name a combined Super League XIII of the two teams.
As you can imagine, there were many close calls in a number of positions given the talent both clubs have showcased since 1996, but after much deliberation my selections are as follow…
Full-back: Paul Wellens
Wellens just edges out Wigan counterpart Kris Radlinski for the no.1 role. I don’t think I’ve ever come across a better defensive full-back than Wellens and nobody could quite read the game like him. He might not have been the quickest, but he made up for that with intelligence and dedication which is highlighted by the amount of silverware he won.
Wing: Tommy Makinson
This might be viewed as a surprising choice, but I think we often overlook just how good some of the modern talent is. Makinson has been the best winger in Super League for a number of years and in 2018 he deservedly won the Golden Boot. The two-time Grand Final winner famously scored the clinching try in the decider against Wigan back in 2014, one of many sensational tries he has scored in his career to date.
Centre: Jamie Lyon
Despite only playing for St Helens for two seasons, the Aussie superstar walks into this side. This is due in large part to the silverware he helped bring to Knowsley Road with his 46 tries and 206 conversions being key to their success. In his first season, Saints finished top of the pile as Lyon was named Man of Steel, then the following year he helped lead them to the treble in a faultless season.
Centre: Mark Percival
Again, this could be viewed as a surprising selection, but Percival has gone from strength to strength in recent years. The England international has won two Grand Finals and has become super consistent, especially over the last two seasons as Saints have dominated with their expansive style. There is more to come from Percival over the next few seasons which will further cement his selection here.
Wing: Pat Richards
The 2010 Man of Steel simply had to feature. The Australian racked up a stunning 167 tries and 898 goals in his Wigan career, which included two Grand Final triumphs. So often the architect of famous moments for the Warriors, one of which was an insane long-distance drop-goal against Saints back in 2013. Richards was a classy winger who could do it all, and he would often save his best for the big games.
Stand-off: Sam Tomkins
This may raise a few eyebrows, however few could live with Sam Tomkins during his first stint at Wigan. The 2012 Man of Steel spent the early part of his career at stand-off and played some great rugby there, once helping rip Saints apart at Magic Weekend. Sam was an unstoppable attacking force in his prime and was key in bringing the glory days back to Wigan.
Scrum-half: Sean Long
Once Long had led St Helens to a fourth Grand Final win in eight years, those who let him leave Wigan at the start of his career must have looked at each other and sighed. The hero of the 2002 Grand Final is potentially Super League’s best ever scrum-half, with his kicking game and flair making St Helens the competition’s dominant force. Throughout the noughties, Wigan could only dream of having a playmaker like Long who consistently produced the goods on the big stage.
Prop: Alex Walmsley
Few could have predicted just how good Alex Walmsley would become when he was toughing it out in the Championship for Batley. Now, seven years into his St Helens career, the two-time Super League winner is one of the best props the competition has seen. Having overcome big injury setbacks, Walmsley remains an unstoppable force on his day and is capable of playing big minutes. It’s likely his input and desire will help lead Saints to more glory in the coming years.
Hooker: James Roby
This was a very tough choice when you consider all the talent in this position. Many will argue the case of Keiron Cunningham, but I’ve edged towards the energy, strength and speed of James Roby. Arguably now Super League greatest and most consistent ever hooker, Roby has the smarts and he remains one of the competitions best players even now. Last year’s Super League-winning captain will likely lift another title before he retires.
Prop: James Graham
Graham’s return to St Helens has underlined just how loved he is by the Saints’ faithful. He was at one stage probably the best prop in the world during his prime NRL days and even now he remains top class. His desire to win and no-nonsense attitude makes him one of the most enjoyable players to watch, and the former Man of Steel will relish appearing in a Saints-Wigan derby again this season after so many years since his last one.
Second-row: Paul Sculthorpe
Two-time Man of Steel Paul Sculthorpe played in some epic Saints-Wigan derbies. He led from the front, both physically and metaphorically, with athleticism, speed and strength making him impossible to stop when in full flow. He won three Grand Finals with Saints and was always a key part of their success. His battles with Andy Farrell were always intriguing and their rivalry added more colour to arguably Super League’s biggest and best fixture.
Second-row: Andy Farrell
Andy Farrell was a Wigan hero at the start of Super League, helping them win the inaugural Grand Final in 1998. Even in some more difficult years for the Warriors, his standards never slipped as he put his body on the line time after time. His performances often single-handedly dragged a team off the pace back into title contention, and who could forget his 2004 Good Friday brawl with the aforementioned Sculthorpe. The two-time Man of Steel was one of kind and is one of the toughest players to ever play in Super League.
Loose-forward: Sean O’Loughlin
The heir to Andy Farrell has gone beyond what his predecessor achieved as skipper for the Cherry and Whites. Having lifted four Super League crowns, he’s the second most successful captain the competition has seen and is still one of Wigan’s key players. Like Farrell and Sculthorpe, he blended skill with brute strength, and is often rolled out for the big occasions due to his ability to produce his best in the pressure games. O’Loughlin watched Saints dominate in the early days, but he toughed it out and was the main reason Wigan overtook their great rivals at the start of the 2010s.