Jon Wilkin: Good Friday loss can give Saints the reality check needed to kick on in Leeds cup tie

St Helens Star: Jon Wilkin Jon Wilkin

TWO defeats over a tough Easter period may have pricked the bubble of optimism that had been building since the start of the season, but Saints will not be travelling to Leeds for Saturday’s tie of the Challenge Cup fifth round a dispirited, beaten side.

The Wigan game may have taught Nathan Brown’s men a salutary lesson, particularly with regards to early errors and playing catch up, but after playing a series of get out of jail cards in recent weeks, it is one they will heed if they are to stay on the Wembley trail.

Although Good Friday’s defeat has deflated a little of the confidence and removed that shield of invincibilty, it will have toughened them up for the match against Brian McDermott’s team packed with experience, power and guile in the middle and strike out wide.

Packman Jon Wilkin, who has enjoyed some bright days at Headingley in the cup, is looking forward to this big test of Saints’ mettle.

Wilkin said: “We enjoy playing there – it is the old ground feeling and reminds me a lot of Knowsley Road when you go there.

“It is a familiar and comfortable ground – we have won there in the past but that does not mean we have God given right to play well there. The reason we play well there is because we usually go expecting a tough game and we expect this to be the toughest game of the year by far.”

A few hearts sank when, barely minutes after pipping Huddersfield in the last round, Saints’ name came out of the hat after Leeds – particularly when Wigan drew Hunslet, their second successive Championship side.

But Wilkin, one who regularly expresses his fondness for the Challenge Cup and Saints’ good tradition with it, was excited by the big game.

“It is a great draw for us. We can go to Leeds, get a win and start to look forward to next few weeks in Super League and build up towards the next cup round.

“It is a huge game and it feels like that already in training,” he said.

Saints showed plenty of pluck when their depleted side defeated Leeds 14-10 last month at Langtree Park. That belief may be important, and stop too many self doubts creeping in after Good Friday’s reality check.

But losing to Wigan does leave a mark, and Wilkin is keenly aware of how much that hurts all those connected with the club.

“I think if you are not hurting from losing on Good Friday you should not be at Saints. I don’t believe there is anybody at the club who isn’t hurting. We are a proud club – Good Friday is a big game and we want to win that. We are Saints and that is what it is about. We should be hurting.

“We need to understand as players how important the game is and how the team is perceived in the town. Good Friday is a real focal point for the start of the year.

“Although there are a lot of games gone before, but it is the point to check where we are at. It is a reality check for us but it gives us a chance to kick on and improve.”

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