Wigan are hoping an eight-year unbeaten run at the Dacia Magic Weekend will help them get their Betfred Super League title defence back on track.
The champions have faltered on the back of a crippling injury crisis but skipper Sean O’Loughlin and his England team-mate George Williams will both be back for their Grand Final rematch with Warrington, which will bring down the curtain on day one at Newcastle’s St James’ Park.
The champions have slipped out of the top four following emphatic back-to-back defeats by the two surprise packets of 2017, Castleford and Salford. But the Magic Weekend tends to bring out the best in Shaun Wane’s men, whose only defeats in the annual two-day extravaganza came in the first two years in Cardiff.
“We’ve hit a few sticky results,” said Wigan second rower Liam Farrell. “I still think with the teams we’ve put out, we were capable of winning games.
“But there are things we’re fixing up over the next few weeks and obviously with a few bodies coming back, we’ll definitely be improving.”
After accounting for St Helens, Huddersfield and – in each of the previous four years – Leeds, the Warriors have new Magic Weekend opponents in Warrington, although the old foes could be sick of the sight of each other by the end of the year.
They have already played each other once since their Old Trafford title decider and, after being paired together in the quarter-finals of the Challenge Cup, are likely to meet at least three more times after Saturday’s clash.
“I think we’ll end up playing them about five times this year,” said Warrington full-back Stefan Ratchford.
“I’m sure it will be a special game, it’s always a great atmosphere at Magic and it brings the best out of people.”
Wigan caught the Wolves at the height of their early-season crisis, winning 38-16 at the DW Stadium, but Tony Smith’s men have lost just one of their last seven matches and have a chance not only to climb out of the bottom four for the first time but to close to within two points of the champions.
“Over the last six or so weeks, they’ve been improving and they’re one of the better teams in the comp,” Farrell said.
Warrington stand-off Kevin Brown, who began his career with Wigan, is set to make history by becoming the only man to play at all 11 Magic events.
Hull will have a chance to go top of the table, at least for 24 hours, when they take on St Helens in the middle game on Saturday. The Black and Whites are enjoying a five-match winning run while Saints are reeling from successive defeats by Warrington and Castleford in which they have conceded 93 points.
St Helens prop Kyle Amor is hoping the presence of new coach Justin Holbrook, who will adopt a watching brief before officially taking charge on Monday, and playing on a big stage can help his side emerge from their slump.
“This competition is a ruthless one, it takes no prisoners,” Amor said. “We’ve got to stay together and work hard and focus on this next game. Hull are a good strong outfit who are playing very well at the minute. We’ll have our work cut out on Saturday.”