Super League: Warrington Wolves & St Helens await Friday's top-of-the-table meeting

St Helens beat Warrington in their last Super League meeting in April
St Helens beat Warrington in their most recent Super League meeting in April
Betfred Super League: Warrington Wolves v St Helens
Venue: Halliwell Jones Stadium Date: Friday, 28 June Kick-off: 19:45 BST
Coverage: Live text and BBC radio commentary on the BBC Sport website and app

The 2019 Super League season has seen two sides stand out from the rest, and on Friday they meet in what could prove to be a precursor to finals in the closing weeks of the campaign.

Leaders St Helens, possessing a formidable squad that includes try-scoring machine Regan Grace, travel to second-placed Warrington - who could hand cross-code centre Luther Burrell his first start since joining from rugby union club Northampton.

It has the makings of an absolute cracker under the lights at the Halliwell Jones Stadium - what does the match mean and what is at stake?

Finding his feet

Luther Burrell won the Premiership and European Challenge Cup with Northampton Saints in 2014
Luther Burrell won the Premiership and European Challenge Cup with Northampton Saints in 2014

Victory for Saints on Friday will give them an eight-point lead over Warrington and will move them closer to a second successive League Leaders' Shield, but Warrington are close behind in their pursuit of their first ever Super League title.

So how do you inspire a run of form in the second half of the season? In Warrington's case, you pull off the impressive signing of a championship-winning rugby union centre.

"I've had a good three and a half weeks prep and integration and I've found my feet now. I'm up to speed with how the club works and how the lads are," said Burrell, who joined Warrington after the end of the Premiership season in May.

He told BBC Sport: "There's only so much fitness you can take before you put your hand up and knock on the coach's door for selection.

"I was only playing rugby union a month ago so I've had to shut the door on that. I've done my homework on rugby league ever since I signed."

During his time in union, Burrell won the Premiership and European Challenge Cup with Northampton and also won 15 caps for England. He is confident he can rise to the occasion against a dominant Saints side.

"They have been playing some great rugby," he added. "Their half-backs are directing the team very well so I think it comes down to our middles. If they can control them then we'll have a good insight into the game.

"Once they've got momentum and they're on the front foot, they will be very hard to stop. Defence is going to be key for us this week."

'Saints are the favourites'

Steve Price
Steve Price led Warrington to victory against St Helens in last season's Super League semi-final

Saints have set the pace in the league this season and Wire head coach Steve Price is under no illusions as to how good their opponents are.

"Credit where it's due, Saints will be favourites," Price told BBC Radio Merseyside. "They've been really consistent in how they've gone about their business this year but in saying that, I'm really happy with our playing squad.

"They're continually improving and in a good place at the moment as well as enjoying their football. It's a good test to see where we're at.

"We're the big underdogs in this game. You have to tell it how it is, I'm not going to manifest something that it's not."

Bettering a good friend

St Helens head coach Justin Holbrook
Justin Holbrook (right) took charge of St Helens in May 2017

The last time these two sides met, Saints ran out 38-12 winners to overtake their opponents at the summit, and visiting head coach Justin Holbrook is expecting a tough game this time around.

"Warrington are a quality side right across the park so the fact we did beat them earlier in the year will be an incentive for them to come out harder," Holbrook told BBC Radio Merseyside.

"The two sides have been playing fantastic and it's first versus second after 20 rounds, so it's as good as it can get at this stage of the year.

"We're expecting a hard-working, honest and tough opponent. I've known Steve a long time. We're good friends but I'll be happy to beat him on Friday."

A capacity crowd is expected at the Halliwell Jones Stadium, but how will the league leaders fare at a ground full of vociferous Wire fans hoping they can close down their six-point deficit on top spot?

"You want to play in the big games and you embrace that kind of atmosphere," Saints half-back Jonny Lomax told BBC Sport.

"The last time we played them was a great occasion and going to their place with all the publicity around the game, hopefully the crowd will be big and it'll be something that we can look forward to."

Going down to the wire

St Helens half-back Jonny Lomax has scored 12 tries in Super League so far this season
St Helens half-back Jonny Lomax has scored 12 tries in Super League so far this season

In 2018, Saints stormed out of the blocks and led the league for much of the season before faltering in the play-offs, during which they lost to Warrington

This season, they are determined to learn from their mistakes.

Lomax continued: "It's a game that often goes down to the wire, as proven in the Super League semi-final last year. Unfortunately on that day, Warrington managed to beat us.

"Lessons can be learned and hopefully we can implement that moving forward. That's probably why Justin has recently tried to rest a number of players [this season].

"It is a long season, especially if you factor in cup games and potential play-off games, so trying to keep his squad fresh is a big thing he's tried to do."

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