A week of trauma and triumph

Dave Hadfield follows the fortunes of a champion club at the crossroads
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It has been quite a week for Wigan Rugby League Club, with their opposition, on various rugby fields, ranging from Paris to Bath and Wasps. Off the field, two directors appeared in court, while, for the first time, the club has lost a player to rugby union, rather than the other way around.

Sunday: Business as usual, or something close, with Wigan playing rugby league against a rugby league team and winning 76-8. But Paris St Germain, are not opposition that could have been foreseen a year ago, before the plans for the European Super League were drawn up.

Rob Smyth, standing in for the injured Martin Offiah and a representative of the new generation of players on whom the club rely, scores a hat-trick of tries, as does Henry Paul, playing for the first time in flashy white boots. (Headline in theweekly the Rugby Leaguer: "French Fried by Paul")

The bad news is that the crowd is only just over 10,000 and that Wigan's great rivals, St Helens, win equally convincingly against Oldham to stay two points clear at the top of the table.

Monday: Training at Central Park, with the Middlesex Sevens in mind. The last half-hour is devoted to the unfamiliar technicalities of the line-out. And here's a worrying sight for prospective opponents at the weekend - Va'aiga Tuigamala as a forward.

Afterwards, a press conference at which players and coaching staff emphasise how seriously they are taking the Bath match.

Shaun Edwards is worried about the referee letting Bath get away with murder, Tuigamala and Offiah are clearly excited by the prospect of getting stuck into the leading club from their old code and the coach, Graeme West, wants the match treated in the same way as the storming of Paris two days earlier.

The commercial manager, David Bradshaw, admits Wigan need the money from the double-header against Bath to replace that lost by not reaching Wembley for the first time in nine years. Wigan will play in Super League squad numbers at Maine Road, it is confirmed. "According to the rumours," says the one director present, John Martin, "it would be a question of whether we could afford another strip."

Tuesday: Another set of rumours turns out to be true, as Scott Quinnell signs to return to rugby union with Richmond later this summer. The unveiling of Quinnell and four other new signings at the Cafe Royal, in London, is the sort of coup Wigan used to specialise in. Now they will receive a sum variously estimated at pounds 200,000 and pounds 250,000 for releasing him with more than two years of his contract still to run.

His departure will not please West, who put so much time and effort into making him a rugby league player, but it is further evidence of the cost- cutting that is the new priority at Central Park. Quinnell will play against Bath, but misses the session when Wigan turn their attention to the Maine Road match.

"Even in the match under league rules," says West, "we expect their scrummaging to be very tight, so we have been putting in some extra work on that with the help of a scrummaging machine."

That is a piece of equipment that has not been seen in use on a rugby league ground for some years. The joke in Wigan is that, if the team loses many more forwards, the scrummaging machine might have to play.

Wednesday: The club plan to bring in the Auckland Warriors second-row Bryan Henare to replace Quinnell.

A more pressing matter for the chairman, Jack Robinson, is his appearance alongside John Martin in Wigan Magistrates' Court, both directors being accused of conspiracy to defraud the Wigan Observer. The case is adjourned until 12 June.

Another moment of truth - at Maine Road - and Bath are found guilty of impersonating a rugby league team. Wigan win 82-6 and Shaun Edwards is furious with his side when they concede the six. Offiah gets six of his own, a double hat-trick of tries, and says: "This is only the first half of the show. They could still give us an education in rugby union when we go to Twickenham for the return."

The bad news, financially, was that only just over 20,000 were attracted by this moment in sporting history, leaving both sides well short of the earnings they had hoped for. The public had anticipated the mis-match, it seems.

Thursday: Wigan's timetable leaves them little time to gloat, with the players back at training in the morning, practising rugby union sevens routines. Their agenda is set for them by Orrell's specialist sevens coach, Brian Fishwick, with extra input from Va'aiga Tuigamala, who played plenty of the short game in his rugby union days.

Bath had already withdrawn from the tournament at Twickenham, anticipating feeling pretty sick and sore this morning. Wigan's injury count after Maine Road - nil.

Friday: Another live Sevens session followed by a 1.30 departure to the London base at Putney. It isn't quite the annual trip to Wembley, but it's the nearest that Wigan will get this year. A squad is named that includes the awesome prospect Tuigamala at hooker and which gives Quinnell the chance to play for his present club against his future club when Wigan meet Richmond in the first round.

Saturday: Disappointingly, there is no evidence of Holland's pies or mushy peas being added to the menu in the various car park picnics.

The day still begins brightly for Wigan with their neighbours, Orrell, beating the might of Malaysia. But, as this is one sporting event where most of the crowd stays outside the stadium, there are few there to see it.

There is a buzz of anticipation as Wigan come out for their match, which is slightly diluted when Henry Paul kicks off straight into touch. But then Offiah gets the ball in his hands for the first time and Wigan's week is clearly not going to end all that badly. In fact, it ends in triumph.

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