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Last Updated: 25/07/18 3:14pm
Warrington coach Steve Price says Thursday’s derby with Super League leaders St Helens will provide an indication of how far his side have come in 2018.
The Wolves were hovering above the bottom four after a 30-12 defeat at home to Saints in March, raising fears they could be plunged into a second successive relegation battle.
But Price’s men go into the last round of the regular season challenging for a home semi-final in a tightly-contested battle for second spot.
They are 11 points behind Saints but just one behind second-placed Wigan and are ahead of fourth-placed Castleford on points difference, leaving that home defeat by Saints a distant memory for Price.
St Helens vs Warrington Wolves
July 26, 2018, 7:30pm
“That feels a long time ago,” he said. “They are the competition leaders for a reason.
“They’ve been the most consistent team to date but, in saying that, we’re a lot better football team than we were at the start of the season.
“There’s really good belief and trust among the playing group but we understand that we need to keep improving and keep going up a few more levels to get to where we want to be.”
St Helens have lost just twice all year but prop Luke Douglas says the leaders are expecting a stern challenge from their near neighbours.
“They’ve been up for a good couple of months and been playing some great rugby,” he said.
“I know they were disappointed with their efforts when we played them last. They’re going to be revamped, ready to go and a hungry side, so we’ve got to be ready.”
Both clubs have selected their strongest sides for what they hope will be a Wembley dress rehearsal.
With one eye on their Challenge Cup semi-final against Leeds on Sunday week, Catalans Dragons are resting at least seven regulars for their last game of the regular season at Wigan but Price says the thought of fielding a weakened team never entered his head.
“We are always driven by one week at a time here,” Price said. “I understand it’s the Challenge Cup the following weekend but there’s a 10-day turnaround and they are the benchmark in the competition at present.
“It’s going to be a really good challenge to see where we’re at.
“It’s important you go into big games match hardened and there is no bigger challenge than St Helens tomorrow night.”
The game comes too soon for new signing Bodene Thompson, who will be ineligible for the cup, but Price is able to bring back Bryson Goodwin, Ben Murdoch-Masila and Ben Westwood from injury.
Saints welcome back England centre Mark Percival and exciting full-back Ben Barba, who have scored 39 tries between them in Super League so far this year.
Warrington’s Australian scrum-half Tyrone Roberts is acutely aware of the threat posed by Barba.
“I played a couple of years against him back home,” Roberts said. “He’s got that skill and his combination with the halves has been great.
“He’s dangerous in open field and at the back.”
St Helens squad: Jonny Lomax, Tommy Makinson, Ryan Morgan, Mark Percival, Theo Fages, James Roby, Kyle Amor, Zeb Taia, Jon Wilkin, Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook, Luke Douglas, Morgan Knowles, Luke Thompson, Dom Peyroux, Danny Richardson, Regan Grace, Matty Lees, Jack Ashworth, Ben Barba.
Warrington squad: Stefan Ratchford, Tom Lineham, Kevin Brown, Tyrone Roberts, Chris Hill, Daryl Clark, Mike Cooper, Jack Hughes, Declan Patton, Sitaleki Akauola, Joe Philbin, Toby King, George King, Harvey Livett, Mitch Brown, Morgan Smith, Josh Charnley, Ben Pomeroy, Ben Westwood.