Rugby League: Premiership Final - Captain called upon to be model of consistency

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The Independent Online
Andy Farrell could be the most complete player in Wigan's history, but will his contribution to the cause be enough to help his side win tomorrow's final at Old Trafford, asks Dave Hadfield.

It would be an injustice if Andy Farrell tomorrow became the first Wigan captain in 13 years not to lift a major trophy before the end of the domestic season.

Knocked out of the Challenge Cup by St Helens, and unable to mount a challenge to Bradford in Super League, Wigan have their last chance against Saints in the Premiership final at Old Trafford.

Farrell is a prime reason why they should take that chance. Over a trying season, his contribution to a sometimes faltering cause has been awe-inspiring.

Confirmed this week as Great Britain's captain for the Test series against Australia in November, Farrell is more clearly the best player in the country than any of his predecessors - even Ellery Hanley in his heyday. "He's in that category with Hanley, Brad Fittler and Laurie Daley in that you could see from day one what he could do," the Great Britain coach, Andy Goodway, said. "I only had him for a couple of matches in the Wigan Academy side because he had already progressed beyond that, but it was obvious even then."

It is possible to argue that Farrell is a more complete player than any of those with whom Goodway compares him. Hanley did not have his kicking game or the refinement of his ball skills; neither Fittler nor Daley would much relish the "extra prop forward" duties Farrell automatically adds to his others when Wigan need him to.

"The other thing that always impressed me was the consistency of his approach and attitude," Goodway says. "We don't have enough of that in the British game. World-class players are always prepared to prepare."

The current Wigan team is an unbalanced mixture of the world-class and the merely serviceable. Much of the rest of the quality comes in the shape of Jason Robinson, who could - although their supporters will desperately hope this is not the case - have already played his last league game for the club.

Robinson is due to join the Australian Rugby League at the turn of the year and even his participation in the Test series is in doubt. But, if he is on his way, he has left Wigan fans with vivid memories of his sheer ebullience during the second half of the season.

Robinson came back slightly jaded from his winter stint with Bath, but since his move to full-back his sparkle has been brighter than ever.

"I've enjoyed it there, because I've had more opportunity to attack," he said - and it is that ability to attack with explosive effect from deep in his own half that is such a threat to St Helens tomorrow.

Wigan have also had a habit this season of looking the part when Tony Smith is at scrum-half, as he will be at Old Trafford, and Henry Paul is back to something like his dazzling best. The side that Eric Hughes has at his disposal tomorrow looks strong enough to maintain the club's long sequence.

"It's an important match for me," Hughes said. "But because it's my first final with Wigan, not because it's against Saints."

Saints, of course, sacked him at the start of last year to make room for Shaun McRae, under whom they have won two Challenge Cups and the inaugural Super League Championship.

Although their Super League form has been comparatively disappointing, it is McRae's contention that they have done remarkably well to win one trophy and reach the final of another during a season when they have been so ravaged by injury and, particularly in the case of Bobbie Goulding, suspension.

Goulding is still banned for his latest misdemeanour this weekend, but that is not the disaster it would once have been. His replacement, Sean Long, while not yet as influential a player is in some ways a more dangerous one. Hughes has admitted to being sorry now that Long was allowed to leave Wigan this season - first to Widnes and, six weeks later, to Saints - and there will be times tomorrow afternoon when Long's willingness to run at a defence will threaten to make him sorrier still.

But with players like Farrell and Robinson on top of their form, Wigan should have enough quality to see them home - and not empty-handed.

In the Divisional Premiership final that precedes the main event, it is unfortunate that a hamstring tear will deny Garry Schofield one of his last chances to claim a winners' medal. His Huddersfield side still has some factors going for it, like the size of its forwards and the depth of experience spread throughout it, but Hull should be a little too strong.

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