Warrington and Hull FC: Grand Finalists or pretenders to the throne?
While the whole of Europe will have their eyes focused on France and the start of Euro 2016 on Friday night, Super League has its own headline act at the Halliwell Jones Stadium.
Warrington versus Hull FC may have represented a dead rubber fixture in recent seasons with little to write home about but now, after 17 rounds in 2016, it’s a mouth-watering top of the table clash with Hull able to go four points ahead of the Wolves at the summit with a win.
Since the advent of Super League in 1996 only four teams have lifted the trophy in the Grand Final at Old Trafford – Bradford, Leeds, St Helens and Wigan.
Bradford have been relegated. Leeds have fallen. St Helens have faltered. And although Wigan sit fourth with the same number of points as Warrington they are yet to reach the heights from previous campaigns and have scored the second fewest points in the league.
There is a very real chance that the trend is about to be broken this year and there is a possibility that Friday’s game could be a Grand Final rehearsal.
Both sides have been there before. The Airlie Birds made their solitary Old Trafford appearance back in 2006 but were beaten 26-4 by St Helens.
Warrington have made the trip twice but came off second best on both occasions – most notably surrendering a 16-6 half-time lead against Wigan in 2013 to lose 30-16.
For Super League’s two biggest underachievers, is this the year one of them finally takes the title?
‘It’s always your year’ is the chant opposition fans have for years mocked Warrington supporters with but could 2016 actually be the year the Wolves taste success?
After a poor 2015 saw Tony Smith’s side finish 6th, change was needed and a host of new additions have bolstered the side.
The experienced Kurt Gidley has been a revelation and his half-back partnership with Chris Sandow has helped the Wolves become the league’s highest points scorers.
Warrington lost four out of six league games in Sandow’s recent absence with a hamstring injury but have put together two comprehensive wins over Leeds and St Helens since his return.
The Wolves’ other defeat this season came at the hands of Hull on Easter Monday who edged a thrilling contest 26-24 at the KC Stadium.
Super League’s sleeping giants have awoken in 2016 and rightfully sit top of the table having won 11 of their last 12 league games.
They are unbeaten in their last seven and head into Friday’s game full of confidence that they can stretch their lead at the top to four points.
After an 8th place finish in 2015 the side were determined to work on their faults in pre-season and are reaping the rewards.
The majority of the team are in the form of their careers with Marc Sneyd and Jamie Shaul stand out performers so far this campaign.
Lee Radford has also praised the medical staff for keeping his team relatively injury-free but even when they have missed the likes of Frank Pritchard and Leon Pryce their strength in depth has ensured their performances don’t drop.
Perhaps it’s too soon to get carried away but either way both sides will be looking to show they can play like champions and not just contenders on Friday night.