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Thursday 11th Sep 20:00 Round: 27
Previous Super League Meetings
30 - 20
16 - 12
24 - 20
4 - 12
16 - 30
Warrington Wolves stalwart Paul Wood admits his side have probably surprised even their own fans as they close in on a top-two finish in the First Utility Super League for the fourth successive year.
The Wolves, who won the League Leaders' Shield in 2011 and were beaten Grand Finalists for the past two years, were expected to dip below those high standards after losing a host of experienced players at the end of 2013.
Lee Briers and Adrian Morley led an exodus, with fellow veterans Brett Hodgson and Garreth Carvell also moving on, and Tony Smith's team initially struggled in their absence, but a late-season surge has rekindled their hopes of a third successive trip to Old Trafford.
Level on points with Wigan Warriors, Warrington can guarantee themselves a place in the top three if they beat the defending champions in their last match of the regular season at the DW Stadium on Thursday night.
"That would be nice, probably more so because people didn't expect us to finish quite as high after we lost so many senior players," said 32-year-old prop forward Wood.
"But the young lads have come in and really established themselves as first-team players. I think we've even surprised our own supporters.
"But we set out at the start of the year knowing we had the capability of winning trophies with this team. We've built a culture now, we've played in finals for the last few years, we've won the Challenge Cup and League Leaders' Shield so we know what it's like to get silverware."
Second place would be up for grabs should Castleford Tigers lose to Catalan Dragons on Saturday.
The Wolves could yet finish as low as fifth in the tightest finish since the advent of Super League in 1996 , but Leeds Rhinos have proved that should not be a barrier to success in the Grand Final.
Buoyed by a 39-12 derby win at current leaders St Helens, Wood is hoping Warrington are timing their run to perfection and insists there will be no holding back in Thursday's repeat of last October's Grand Final.
"It's always a big game against Wigan – it's a local derby and we've got a good rivalry going over the last few years – but there is extra motivation this time because it means something in terms of where we finish in the league," Wood said.
"Looking at previous years, you've got a chance of winning it as long as you finish in the top eight, it's all about stringing those wins together at that particular time of the season.
"But we want to finish as high as possible so it reflects how consistent we've been throughout the season."
Wigan, too, go into the derby in high spirits following their 21-6 win over Leeds, and Warriors coach Shaun Wane is expecting a tight contest.
"They're a very good team with some very good individuals," Wane said. "I've watched their last six games over the last few days and they've some real good quality about their attack and they defend with some energy.
"We need to build on that performance and attitude from Leeds and, if we do that, then we will really challenge Warrington.
"They are very much like us, they've been very inconsistent. They've hit some form these last few weeks and have been fantastic.
"We need to step up again to make sure we stick with them this Thursday. It's got the makings of a fantastic game."
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19 Man Squad
- L Farrell
Form players based on appearances in the last 30 days
Clean Breaks: 9