Another title awaits Wigan

RUGBY LEAGUE: Championship all but over as Warrington bow to the power
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The Independent Online
Warrington 12 Wigan 41

Wigan are close enough to the Stones Centenary Championship to smell the silver polish that they have been applying to the trophy for the past six years.

A thoroughly convincing victory at Wilderspool leaves them needing just one point from their three remaining fixtures, against Bradford, Sheffield and Leeds, to clinch the title.

They can even afford to lose those last three matches and for Leeds to win all theirs - unless something quite miraculous happens to the points difference that also separates the two clubs.

The Wigan coach, Graeme West, travelled across to St Helens after the Warrington game, in the hope of seeing the championship confirmed. He and his side will have to wait a little longer, but the delay is surely only temporary.

It was a typically destructive spell on either side of half-time that set up a victory that made it all but mathematically certain that Wigan would retain the Championship.

Va'aiga Tuigamala, who finished with three tries, was the man who started the Wigan surge, powering his way over immediately before the break, straight from a scrum after Warrington had knocked on a Simon Haughton kick.

Warrington, despite fielding a side well below maximum strength, had held their own up to that point. They had conceded a try to Haughton in the 14th minute after Scott Quinnell had driven to the vicinity of the line and Shaun Edwards opened the gap with a short pass.

Warrington's young back row was coping well and two members of it contributed to the equalising try, Paul Sculthorpe picking up Mike Ford's chip kick and Paul Barrow's pass sending Mark Forster in at the corner. The third back rower, Ian Knott, kicked a conversion from touch to wipe out the first of Henry Paul's five goals for Wigan.

The loss of the gifted Sculthorpe with a hip injury was a blow, however; Tuigamala's first try was another and they then began to rain in from all directions in the second half.

Three quick tries all had a touch of quality about them, starting with Terry O'Connor's lovely pass out of the tackle to send Martin Hall away for Jason Robinson's touchdown.

Kris Radlinski's flick up to Rob Smyth - deputising for the injured Martin Offiah - was just as good and, after O'Connor was sin-binned, it was a delightfully characteristic Paul run that set up Edwards for Wigan's fifth, soon embellished by a drop goal from the captain of the champions elect.

Barrow crowned a promising display for Warrington with a good try but Wigan and Tuigamala finished in style.

The mighty Samoan had enjoyed an intriguing head to head battle with the equally imposing Tongan Salesi Finau, the possessor of possibly an even bigger pair of Polynesian thighs, in the early stages.

A couple of their clashes had resembled large gunny sacks of coconuts slashing into each other, but the difference was that Tuigamala was still firing at the end.

An Edwards kick created the confusion that led to him charging straight through the hopelessly outweighed Chris Eckersley for one try and another perfectly judged chip from his captain gave him his hat-trick in the last minute.

Warrington: Penny (Knott, 65); Forster, Thompson, Finau, Eckersley; Rudd, Ford; Hilton (King, 51), Thursfield, Chambers, Barrow, Knott (Holden, 57), Sculthorpe (Bennett, 33). Substitute not used: Hough.

Wigan: Connolly; Robinson, Tuigamala, Radlinski, Smyth; Paul (Craig, 56), Edwards; Cowie (Skerrett, 20) (Dermott, 73), Hall, O'Connor, Quinnell, Cassidy (Johnson, 63), Haughton.

Referee: S Presley (Castleford).