Rugby League: Smart money on Monie's men to trouble Tollett's Broncos

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The Independent Online
A PERFECTLY respectable case could be argued that the Silk Cut Challenge Cup final that would do the game as a whole the most good would be between London and Sheffield.

The Broncos and the Eagles would both boost their profiles in cities where rugby league's roots are relatively shallow if they were Wembley- bound after this weekend, as well as reminding a wider world that the code has made some modest progress in expanding out of its heartland. Wigan and Salford will have other priorities entirely.

In the first semi-final, at Headingley this afternoon, Salford can claim to have at least as good a back division as Sheffield, who replace the suspended Keith Senior with Willie Morganson after the Australian centre came through an A team comeback safely.

But the Eagles have John Lawless back at hooker and, if Paul Broadbent and Dale Laughton can reproduce the mighty form they showed at Castleford in the last round, the Sheffield front row could force Salford on to the back foot.

The Reds have the highly effective triangle of Steve Blakeley, Josh White and Martin Crompton, but the kicking game of Mark Aston is another factor that could just give the Eagles the edge.

Although Wigan and London were the two sides the others wanted to avoid in the semi-final draw, neither have had to fulfil their potential in the cup so far. When they meet at Huddersfield tomorrow, they will need to.

The London coach, Tony Currie, believes that his new forwards have yet to adjust to the different rhythms of the British game, coming as they do from Australia, where an unlimited interchange rule is in operation. If the likes of Mark Carroll and Grant Young do start to fire, they will be a handful for anyone.

The key to the match, though, could be the two stand-offs. Tulsen Tollett makes an unscheduled early return to the Broncos and rugby league after being released by Harlequins, for this weekend and probably for the whole season, and Currie has had no qualms about throwing him straight back into the fray.

"I've no worries about it at all," he insisted. "We've had our best training sessions of the year since he's been back with us and he will add a lot to the side."

Wigan's John Monie was critical of his No 6 after the victory over St Helens in the last round, observing that Henry Paul had been "tentative".

A calf injury could have been partly responsible, but Monie is not averse to firing a warning shot across the bows of players not performing to their maximum.

He did it, to some effect, with Neil Cowie before the Saints game. Now that Paul is fully fit, the time is right for him to show his coach that he remains a match-winner.

Wigan make just one change, Denis Betts starting in place of Mick Cassidy. Tollett's return allows Peter Gill to move back to the Broncos' second row, alongside Steele Retchless.

Retchless has the name of a Mills and Boon hero, but looks, with his balding head and relatively slight physique, like the club accountant who has decided to join in at training.

He is a relentless worker and tackler who has so far been the pick of London's new imports. If Wigan click, he will have plenty to do - but the money in the cup must always be on Monie's men eventually getting on top of him and his team-mates.