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Super League Rivals Round: Jai Field relishing chance to finally face St Helens

Wigan Warriors’ Jai Field and St Helens’ Jack Welsby will face each other for the first time in Friday’s derby.

Rivalries in sport are long lasting and deeply rooted, and Super League boasts a whole host of them. However, there are only two sporting events to have ever been given the infamous title of a “Derby”; the horserace at Epsom and the clash between the neighbouring towns of St Helens and Wigan.

Good Friday has, since the dawn of Super League, been the first meeting between these rivals of the regular season, and presents two titans of the sport going head to head, not just for all-important points, but for the bragging rights that come with victory against your old foes just a few miles down the road.

As with every derby between St Helens and Wigan, there is an underlying narrative that is always threatening to come to the surface. In 2004, we saw the infamous match up of Paul Sculthorpe v Andy Farrell, 2015 saw Wigan try to make amends for their dramatic Grand Final loss to the Saints, and 2022 sees two rising stars of Super League finally face each other.

It is first versus second and it is full-back versus full-back: It is Jai Field v Jack Welsby.

After an injury-laden 2021, Field has been lighting up the competition in 2022, topping the leader board for clean breaks, metres made and tackle busts, and scoring nine tries in the opening seven rounds of the competition.

Jai Field was in tremendous form for Wigan in their win over Leeds Rhinos - touching down for a hat-trick of tries.

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Jai Field was in tremendous form for Wigan in their win over Leeds Rhinos – touching down for a hat-trick of tries.

Jai Field was in tremendous form for Wigan in their win over Leeds Rhinos – touching down for a hat-trick of tries.

The quick footwork and natural pace of the Warriors full-back makes him a dangerous threat to the solid St Helens defence and as he enters into his first ever derby, he is excited for the challenge of facing Saints for the first time in front of a sell out Good Friday crowd.

“It is exciting. You don’t know until you get into this country and you are in the Wigan or Saints system, how big this rivalry is so I am really looking forward to it,” says Field.

“Team-mates can tell you how big it is and how important it is for both teams.

“I didn’t get to play last year but I saw the atmosphere so I can’t imagine what it is going to be like when it is at Saints and is of this magnitude.

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“It is definitely a bigger occasion and a big rivalry so you go into it like any other game but you know the emotions get heightened.”

Someone who has experienced the tense atmosphere of a St Helens v Wigan clash, even without fans present, is Field’s opposite number Jack Welsby.

As the producer of one of the most iconic Grand Final moments, the St Helens star certainly knows what it takes to face and defeat the Warriors.

In the final moments of the game, Tommy Makinson hit the post when attempting a drop goal, only for Jack Welsby to follow up to grab a try.

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In the final moments of the game, Tommy Makinson hit the post when attempting a drop goal, only for Jack Welsby to follow up to grab a try.

In the final moments of the game, Tommy Makinson hit the post when attempting a drop goal, only for Jack Welsby to follow up to grab a try.

The 2021 Super League Young Player of the Year has a composure in the last line of defence that is well beyond his years, feeding through into the attacking line with an instinctive style of play that presents a real threat with ball in hand.

And when these distinctive styles face each other, it could be a deciding factor in the outcome of one of Super League’s greatest rivalries.

Field, however, doesn’t believe that such battles will be the focus of the match, but instead, both players will just be focused on themselves and getting the result for their team.

Jack Welsby (right) will be hoping to celebrate another victory against Wigan on Good Friday

Jack Welsby (right) will be hoping to celebrate another victory against Wigan on Good Friday

He said: “Welsby is a great player, he is really good at football but you don’t go into it with that sort of focus on the battle.

“I think we will both be trying to get the win for our team and it will be a good game.

“They (St Helens) have been the benchmark for the last three or four years so it is a good opportunity for us to test ourselves.”

Head to Head: Jai Field v Jack Welsby

Age 24 21
Tackles 33 26
Metres 1126 491
Assists 3 11
Tries 3 9

Woolf: Saints v Wigan is the biggest derby

St Helens head coach, Kristian Woolf, is excited for the chance to finally be a part of a Good Friday derby on home turf.

Despite positions in the table at stake, Woolf knows that the match means more than just the points available from it.

“I am really looking forward to it, the players are as well. It is the type of game that players get excited for and really want to be a part of,” says Woolf.

“You can just fell at training that there is a real excitement and real intensity around what we are doing.

St Helens' Kyle Amor explains what makes the rivalry between St Helens and Wigan so special.

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St Helens’ Kyle Amor explains what makes the rivalry between St Helens and Wigan so special.

St Helens’ Kyle Amor explains what makes the rivalry between St Helens and Wigan so special.

“I think it is not much about the two points to be honest, it is about what the actual game is and the occasion that it is, the rivalry that it is and you know Wigan feel exactly the same way.

“It is a derby, as I understand it the biggest in our game and one of the oldest and it has got a different meaning to it on Good Friday as well.

“The two points is obviously important and the fact that we are sitting one and two pulls the lads to the occasion and adds to the rivalry as well but I think it is more about the game than where we sit in the table.

“This game does have a bit more meaning and a bit more on the line and that is the way it is for our players.”

Wigan play leaders St Helens in a table-topping clash on Good Friday, live on Sky Sports, and will also take on their arch-rivals at Elland Road on May 7 for a place in the cup final at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on May 28.

St Helens 21-man squad: 1. Jack Welsby, 2. Tommy Makinson, 3. Will Hopoate, 4. Mark Percival, 6. Jonny Lomax, 7. Lewis Dodd, 8. Alex Walmsley, 9. James Roby, 10. Matty Lees, 12. Joe Batchelor, 13. Morgan Knowles, 14. Joey Lussick, 15. LMS, 17. Agnatius Paasi, 19. Jake Wingfield, 20. James Bell, 22. Ben Davies, 23. Konrad Hurrell, 24. Dan Norman, 26. Sam Royle, 27. Jon Bennison

Wigan Warriors 21-man squad: 1. Bevan French, 2. Jake Bibby, 6. Cade Cust, 7. Thomas Lueluai, 8. Brad Singleton, 9. Sam Powell, 10. Patrick Mago, 11. Willie Isa, 12. Liam Farrell, 13. John Bateman, 14. Morgan Smithies, 16. Harry Smith, 17. Oliver Partington, 19. Ethan Havard, 20. Liam Byrne, 22. Joe Shorrocks, 23. Jai Field, 24. Abbas Miski, 25. Sam Halsall, 26. James McDonnell, 28. Brad O’Neill



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