|Venue: Elland Road, Leeds Date: Saturday, 7 May Kick-off: 14:30 BST Coverage: Live on BBC One and BBC Sport website, commentary on BBC Radio 5 live sports extra, live text commentary on BBC website and app|
The absence of St Helens’ star stand-off Jonny Lomax could “tip the scales” in Wigan’s favor in Saturday’s Challenge Cup semi-final derby, according to Wales coach John Kear.
Lomax is a big doubt for the match at Elland Road – part of a triple header that includes the St Helens v Leeds women’s Challenge Cup final and Huddersfield v Hull KR men’s semi-final, all live on BBC TV.
The England half suffered a bicep injury in the recent Super League match against Salford, and he will be given as long as possible to provide his fitness.
Saints are already without first choice scrum-half and long-term absentee Lewis Dodd. And utility back Will Hopoate has been ruled out with a hamstring problem.
In this week’s 5 Live Rugby League podcast, former Bradford coach Kear and former Scotland international Andrew Henderson predicted the semi-final could be one of the best matches of the year.
But both are edging towards a Wigan victory because of the disruption in the St Helens camp.
“That’s a big, big blow,” said Kear, reflecting on the news that Lomax could miss out.
“That tips the scales slightly towards Wigan, which is quite controversial given the standard that St Helens have set.”
And Henderson agreed: “I don’t care what anyone says, you lose your two main half-backs and that’s going to cause disruption to your team. I get that Jack Welsby will come into the halves, but who partners him?
“Having Hopoate out as well, all of a sudden they’ve got to find someone else to play at full-back. Who’s going to partner Welsby in the halves? That’s going to effect their dynamics.
“Saints will still be prepared, they will still come out and deliver a performance because they set their standards so high, but it’s got to have an impact on their combinations and fluency.”
Wigan have had their own problems coming into Saturday’s game. Hooker Sam Powell will miss out because of a six-game suspension he received for a crusher tackle on St Helens’ John Bennison in the Good Friday derby between the two sides.
And he will be missed, according to Kear.
“Massively. He’s a really good player,” he said. “The young kid Brad O’Neill has done a top job since he’s come in, but Sam Powell was pivotal.
“Not just because of his distribution, but also he was very much the defensive leader. He led the defensive line and closed the opposition down in yardage.”
But both Kear and Henderson, who will be part of BBC TV’s commentary team for the three matches on Saturday, are still predicting a tight and thrilling encounter between the two derby rivals.
Kear is looking forward to the match-up of St Helens’ iron-like defense and Wigan’s quick-silver attack.
“St Helens’ defense is unbelievable, they just don’t concede points,” said Kear.
“But to counter that you’ve got the best attacking team at the moment on the back of [Jai] Field and [Bevan] French.
“There’s a fascinating conundrum that comes from that.”
Henderson added: “You might actually see (St Helens coach) Kristian Woolf has to adapt his game plan based on the personnel he has at his disposal.
“Wigan are building, they’re growing, they’re getting better and better, they’re going along really nicely.
“Knowing Saints I think they will really rise to this challenge, but I just don’t know if they’ll have enough to cross the line in this one.
“But it’s going to be awesome.”