Controversial Wigan prop Ben Flower will make his return from a record-breaking six-month suspension on Thursday (Friday AEST) when his side tackle Warrington in the Super League.
The Wales international became the first man to be sent off in a grand final after punching Lance Hohaia and then striking him again as he lay on the ground, resulting in the longest ban in the league’s history.
Flower, 27, was publicly vilified for his actions, but head coach Shaun Wane believes he deserves a second chance.
“He’s more than served his sentence,” Wane said.
“He let his teammates down and we lost a grand final through it. If he’d stayed on we’d have won by 30 points and that, in itself, is a lot for a player to carry.”
Flower has admitted that memories of what happened against St Helens at Old Trafford last October still haunt him, but he has vowed to come back a better player.
“I regret it every day,” he said in an interview published in The Guardian newspaper on Tuesday.
“Ninety per cent of my time at Wigan has been good. Ten per cent has been real bad, but what I do next will define me.”
Warrington recently slipped out of the top eight following consecutive losses to St Helens, Widnes, Huddersfield and Castleford, prompting fears they might face a fight for survival.
But an 80-0 thrashing of Wakefield last time out has lifted the mood at the Halliwell Jones Stadium and club captain Joel Monaghan is eager to harness that momentum.
“I can hardly remember Warrington losing three in a row in my time here, let alone four,” said the Australian, who took over the captaincy at the start of the season.
Monaghan knows that his side must start stringing wins rather than losses together if they are to continue their climb from fifth, where they currently sit.
And with table-toppers Leeds Rhinos in town the week after the game against third-place Wigan, Monaghan and his team-mates are relishing the chance to test themselves against the best.
Elsewhere, bottom club Wakefield Wildcats will be hoping for a welcome distraction when they host Halifax in the Challenge Cup fifth round.
Head coach James Webster has seen his side win only twice in the first 10 games of the season, but club chairman Michael Carter has given the former Parramatta Eel his full backing.