NINE Good Fridays since he agonisingly hobbled from the field for what would be his final time as a player, the traditional Saints v Wigan Easter clash remains a red-letter day in Paul Wellens’ calendar.

It that has always been the case.

His brother Kevin played full back in the Good Friday clash of 1985 featuring Mal Meninga on the Saints side and Brett Kenny in the Cherry and White. 

Having spent many a boyhood Easter cheering from the terraces, in 1999 teenage Wellens suddenly had a different vantage point from the dugouts spent as a non-playing sub in the last Good Friday at Wigan’s creaking old Central Park.

The year after he would be getting a winning start in the first of 14 appearances in this fixture, split equally between wins and losses with two drawn.

There were some turbulent ones, too, with the clash 20 years seeing Wellens bravely intervening between respective skipper Paul Sculthorpe and Andy Farrell as tensions boiled over.

Fast forward to 2024 and now the head coach, Wellens is preparing his side for his second Easter fixture at the helm knowing only too well what this clash means.

Wellens said: “It is unbelievable - you carry different emotions into the game and it does have that almost Grand Final like feel to it and we understand the importance of it.

“I'm hugely privileged to have played in many of these fixtures down the years. I don't miss playing, but if I could come back and play one game it would be this one.

“To use sporting equivalents, it's like a Real Madrid v Barcelona, isn't it?

“It's that type of fixture - two giant clubs who have a lot of history, a lot of a lot of history of success and plenty of recent success.

“And just like that game sells itself a St Helens and Wigan does exactly the same.

“For anybody who wants to sample what rugby league is like, there’s probably no better starting place than a Good Friday Derby.”

Although the two sides will meet three times this year, including one at Magic, the Easter clash and everything associated with it is always the most eagerly anticipated – as noted by all tickets being sold out weeks ago.

“It is huge,” Wellens said.

“There's such history behind the fixture and it used to be the same on the Boxing Day, but now this is the one in the year where everybody looks forward to.

“I think given the fact that it is around Easter and it’s got that holiday feel around it, makes it that extra bit special as well.

“I'm sure that both sets of players will deliver a great spectacle on Friday.”

Champions Wigan come to town as leaders, as the only unbeaten side left in Super League, and will provide massive test for a Saints side who just have the one slip to date.

The team coaches have much in common, both being local lads leading their hometown teams, with Peet recently earning a lengthy contract extension.

“We have got a lot of respect for Wigan as a club in terms of what they've done historically and also what they continue to do.

“They are really competitive as a club and very well led by Matty Peet and they have shown in recent times just how good they've been.

“They are a team who sit where they do for a reason and so we're looking forward to that challenge.

“And I suppose for us we look at it as a great challenge again to test ourselves against one of the best teams there is. These occasions can become more challenging because of the atmosphere and because what comes attached with such a big game.

“That's a challenge for the players, but one that I'm sure both groups will handle really well.”

After a late slip up at home to Salford three weeks ago, Saints come into the Derby battle hardened from back-to-back wins at Headingley in league and cup.

Although they have been in the wars in those two fixtures, they have showed their tenacity in digging deep and will get plenty of belief from that.

Wellens said: “I like the fact that we have played a couple of intense games now, week-on-week.

“We play this game, we love this game because we want to play in big games and the last two weeks we've had some real challenges there against Leeds on both occasions and obviously taking on Wigan this week the challenge continues.

“We understand it's a sell-out.

“We understand the enormity of the fixture, but we haven't really spoken about Wigan much given we have had tough games at Leeds and then another really tough game at Leeds that we were totally focused on and had to be to get the right result.

“But now our full attention has turned to Wigan and we're looking forward to the challenge.”