Rugby League: Wigan run could end in tears

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The Independent Online
It was 1984 when Wigan last failed to win a major domestic trophy - a fact that will add urgency to their approach when they meet Sheffield Eagles in the semi-final of the Premiership tomorrow.

Sheffield would not have been considered a stumbling block earlier in the season, but such is their recent improvement - culminating in a stunning 58-16 win at London last week - that it is possible to imagine it all ending in tears for Wigan.

Much of the credit must go to John Kear, who took over from Phil Larder after a poor opening to the campaign.

"I think John has done a superb job," his captain, Paul Broadbent, said. "He sends you out full of confidence and, once the confidence is there, the performances follow."

The bedding down of new players has also helped. English signings Martin Wood and Nick Pinkney and overseas imports, such as Willie Morganson and Whetu Taewa, are, in Broadbent's words, "showing the ability they have and why they were brought to the club".

Wigan's biggest bonus is the return to last season's form of Henry Paul, who showed against Leeds on Monday that, when on song, there is no more potent match-winner. Simon Haughton faces a fitness test.

Teams from outside Super League also have Old Trafford in their sights tomorrow as they contest the semi-finals of the Divisional Premiership. Whitehaven have been impressive under Stan Martin, but are unlikely to cope with Hull at The Boulevard. Huddersfield's visit to Keighley is harder to predict.

On the other side of the world, the first of what British pessimists fear will be two meetings between Brisbane and Cronulla will decide Australian Super League's Grand Final. The two clubs are on collision course again in the World Club Championship, unless British opposition can derail them.

Super League clubs are calling for a new-style Premiership modelled on the Australian play-offs.

The League introduced a preliminary round, incorporating the bottom eight teams, for the first time this season but it received a massive thumbs down from supporters, with just 10,245 watching the four ties.

Things are now almost certain to change following a recommendation by Rugby League Europe (RLE), the marketing arm of Super League.

Jean-Marc Garcia, the 26-year-old French international winger, has left Sheffield by mutual consent after three seasons with the Super League club and returned to France.

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