There’s no hiding from it—Super League leaders Wigan are clear favourites to blow Widnes off the park in tonight’s Challenge Cup quarterfinal.
But instead of focusing on how many points the Warriors will score, or looking forward to their almost inevitable semifinal with London Broncos, we’ll be taking a punt and saying that actually it’ll be the Vikings who progress. And here’s how.
Early Widnes Try Silences DW Stadium
For Widnes to stand any chance they have to score first. But Wigan, perhaps complacent from their 62-4 victory the last time the away side paid them a visit, will struggle to get going and look lethargic.
That’s when Patrick Ah Van bursts onto the scene, picking up on a loose home pass and charging down the wing. He knows he can beat this Wigan defence after notching a hat-trick against them in a narrow 33-32 defeat in June, and breaks through some flimsy tackles before passing inside to one of the supporting cast. They dive over the line, Jack Owens converts.
Widnes are 6-0 up.
Widnes Stretch Advantage Through Rhys Hanbury
If Widnes somehow find themselves ahead early in this match, it is imperative they don’t lose their heads and concede quickly. An early score will take Wigan by surprise, and if they can add to it the Challenge Cup upset is firmly on.
Rhys Hanbury is in impressive form with seven tries in five Super League matches, and he will be under no illusions that his side’s fate largely rests on his ability to produce something special.
But Monday night will be Hanbury’s as he continues his hot streak by skipping through the Wigan defence and adding another try. If this happens, coach Denis Betts will have the impossible task of telling his players to keep calm as their opponents flounder under the weight of expectation.
Wigan Struggle Against Stubborn Widnes Defence
It will dawn on Wigan pretty quickly that this is unacceptable, but with players of the calibre of Sam Tomkins and Josh Charnley, they know the tries will come. At least three of them too.
Widnes’ Jon Clarke and David Allen will be in inspired form though, charging into every tackle and motivating those around them. The graft these two put in can help build a siege mentality for the entire Widnes team as Wigan become increasingly frustrated.
As the clock ticks into the final few seconds, the ball is certain to be flung towards Tomkins for inspiration. Can he produce a moment of magic? I'm saying no, as four Widnes shirts leap upon him and haul him into touch to confirm a famous win.
Bold Prediction: Widnes Vikings to weather a late Wigan Warriors storm to seal a famous 22-18 victory.