All eyes turn to woes of Wigan

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The Independent Online
Wigan's ability to keep their eyes on the ball and their minds on the job in hand have rarely come under the degree of scrutiny they will face at St Helens today.

This Good Friday derby, now part of the opening exchanges of a summer season, was highly charged even before the Wigan chairman, Jack Robinson, and another director were arrested for alleged conspiracy to defraud on Wednesday.

The news broke just as the game's governing body, the Rugby League Council, was meeting in Wigan and there was, by all accounts, little sympathy for the hosts. The representatives of some clubs did not even attempt to keep their faces straight. All those clubs will be watching Wigan for signs of stress at Knowsley Road today.

Robinson is adamant he will not stand down. "I've been charged but I've not been found guilty," he said. "I'm obviously very disappointed to be in this position, but everyone at the club has shown solidarity and I've not considered stepping down."

The club brought in a clairvoyant this week, as a gimmick before the Saints match, but they find themselves in the grip of unforseen circumstances.

Neil Cowie, the prop forward also interviewed by police on Wednesday before being released without charge, has been included in an unchanged side.

Wigan showed an uncharacteristic tendency to over-praise themselves after their 56-16 victory over a dismal Oldham in their first Super League match. Today will be an infinitely sterner test of how they will cope with their current tensions.

At the same time, the match comes earlier in the season than is ideal for Saints, leaving their coach, Shaun McRae, to play down the make-or- break nature of the meeting. "I've been telling the players that, like every other match, it counts for two points," he said.

With Andy Leatham and Simon Booth injured, McRae gives a full debut to his fellow-Australian, Derek McVey, and has Adam Fogerty back after three months out with an ankle injury and Tommy Martyn on the bench after even longer absent.

Bradford Bulls yesterday completed the signing of the 24-year-old utility forward, Steve McNamara, from Hull for an undisclosed fee over pounds 100,000. He was signed too late to play against Sheffield Eagles today, but will be in the squad against London on Monday.

Leeds have Carl Hall back but are without Adrian Morley, with Nick Fozzard coming in, for their match against Castleford, while Warrington give the young New Zealander, Toa Kohe-Love, his full debut against Workington.

The First and Second Divisions will play under the more liberal - if frequently more confusing - rule that allows four substitutes and up to six changes for the first time. In the pick of those matches, Widnes go to First Division Champions Salford, while the new South Wales club's fortunes at Prescot Panthers, the renamed perennial back-markers, Highfield, will be watched anxiously.

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