A Good Friday Tradition – Saints vs Wigan

When was the last time we did not meet our noisy neighbours on Easter Weekend?

We all know these are not normal times. In Rugby League terms, that will be confirmed on Good Friday, by the absence of the famous Derby fixture, between ourselves and Wigan.

It’s an Easter tradition going back to 1906 – although it only became firmly established since the last War.

And this will be only the sixth Good Friday since then without a Saints-Wigan Derby – the rivalry having been granted that status by a former Lord Derby from his family seat at Knowsley Hall, according to the story told to the Saints chairman Eamonn McManus by the current Lord Derby when he attended the last match at Knowsley Road in 2010.

The last Derby-free Good Friday came in 2009, when Wigan Athletic were in the Premier League and had a home fixture over the Easter weekend – meaning the Super League clash at the DW Stadium was played on the Thursday night (April 9), with Saints ending a long run of Easter defeats by winning 19-12.

The only other time the rivalry has been switched away from its traditional date in the Super League era came in 2002 – when, it is surprising to be reminded, the Derby was played on Easter Monday.

Wigan beat Castleford 34-12 on Good Friday, while St Helens suffered a 40-6 defeat against London Broncos at Griffin Park – but bounced back to beat the old enemy 19-0 at Knowsley Road on Easter Monday, with tries from Peter Shiels, Tony Stewart and Tommy Martyn, who also kicked a drop goal.

On the previous two occasions the Derby was not played on Good Friday, it had to be switched because of a clash with the Challenge Cup semi finals.

In 1991, it was Saints who were unavailable for the league match, and instead travelled to Central Park on Easter Saturday, where they beat Widnes 19-2 with two tries from Jonathan Griffiths.

Two years earlier, it was Wigan who had a semi final on Easter Saturday, winning an epic clash against Warrington at Maine Road in Manchester by a 13-6 scoreline thanks largely to an equally epic Joe Lydon drop goal.

Saints supporters will not need reminding – that on each occasion, Wigan have beaten Saints in the Cup Final at Wembley.

Saints have a decent answer to any such gloating in the background to the first Derby-free Good Friday since the War, in 1981 – because Wigan had been relegated the previous season, and were playing in the Second Division.

The list of Easter clashes in the Super League era below, compiled by the RFL’s statistical guru Danny Spencer, reveals that the tally is level at 11-11 from 24 games, which included two compelling draws – at Wigan in 2001, and at Knowsley Road three years later.

But sticking to Good Friday games only, Wigan have an 11-9 lead, largely thanks to the run of eight consecutive wins they enjoyed from 2010-2017 – although Saints have won the last couple, 21-18 on home soil in 2018 before the 36-10 romp at the DW last April.

We will all now have to wait an extra year to see how the next Good Friday result will pan out – and for Rugby League supporters in general, and in these two great Rugby League towns in particular, Good Friday 2020 will feel all wrong.

Saints-Wigan Easter results, Super League era:

Wigan 10, St Helens 36 (SLR11, 19/4/19)

St Helens 21, Wigan 18 (SLR8, 30/3/18)

Wigan 29, St Helens 18 (SLR9, 14/4/17)

St Helens 12, Wigan 24 (SLR7, 25/3/16)

Wigan 12, St Helens 4 (SLR8, 3/4/15)

St Helens 14, Wigan 33 (SLR9, 18/4/14)

Wigan 28, St Helens 16 (SLR9, 29/3/13)

St Helens 10, Wigan 28 (SLR10, 6/4/12)

Wigan 28, St Helens 24 (SLR11, 22/4/11)

St Helens 10, Wigan 18 (SLR9, 2/4/10)

Wigan 12, St Helens 19 (SLR9, 9/4/09)

(Thursday game, night before Good Friday)

St Helens 46, Wigan 10 (SLR7, 21/3/08)

Wigan 14, St Helens 32 (SLR8, 6/4/07)

St Helens 48, Wigan 10 (SLR9, 14/4/06)

Wigan 22, St Helens 20 (SLR7, 25/3/05)

St Helens 21, Wigan 21 (SLR5, 9/4/04)

Wigan 24, St Helens 22 (SLR6, 18/4/03)

St Helens 19, Wigan 0 (SLR5, 1/4/02)

(Easter Monday game)

Wigan 22, St Helens 22 (SLR5, 13/4/01)

St Helens 38, Wigan 14 (SLR6, 21/4/00)

Wigan 12, St Helens 14 (SLR3, 2/4/99)

St Helens 18, Wigan 38 (SLR2, 10/4/98)

Wigan 10, St Helens 22 (SLR3, 28/3/97)

St Helens 41, Wigan 26 (SLR2, 5/4/96)

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