Botica lines up the booty

Rugby League: Dave Hadfield says a Kiwi may have the final say on rugby league's last day at home in Wigan
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The Independent Online
IF FRANO BOTICA'S predictions are anything like as accurate as his goal-kicking, he will be saying goodbye but not a final farewell to Wigan this afternoon. The penalties and con- versions that Botica expects to slot over against Leeds in the Stones Bitter Premiership final at Old Trafford will not, he is confident, be his last for Wigan. In fact, if he had his way, he would not be leaving the town at all.

"I've made a mistake and I will have to live by it," Botica says of his decision 22 months ago to sign for the newly formed Auckland Warriors. At the time it seemed an ideal move for an Aucklander who had achieved everything possible in England and was being given a lucrative opportunity to return home to New Zealand.

Since then, however, he has become deeply immersed in his sales businesses which he started in Britain and is leaving them behind only with the greatest reluctance. Although he has signed for two seasons with the Warriors, he is adamant that he will only play one of them. "This isn't the end at Wigan," he says. "I'm coming back after one season and Auckland know that."

They might know it, but that will not necessarily reconcile them to it, and Auckland would have a contractual argument for preventing Botica from playing for Wigan. "In that case, I would just come back and retire," says Botica, whose family are staying in Lancashire while he plays for the Warriors.

To get Botica back next season would be a great boost for Wigan, who know the value of having the best goal-kicker in the world at their disposal. From any point along the 25-yard line - which means from any conversion - there has never been a surer marksman than Botica.

That is all the more remarkable considering that Botica, at the time of his signing five years ago, against the advice of the then Wigan and now Auckland coach, John Monie, was not a specialist kicker. "I was a part-time kicker and I didn't really like the job," he recalls. "But when I looked at the Wigan side they had great players in every position - but no goal-kicker. I thought that was the only way I was going to get into the side."

Botica began to practise his kicking obsessively, putting in an extra session after training four or five times a week. The practice always followed the same pattern: it started with shots from directly in front of the sticks and then moved to the wings.

For a time, it was Botica's kicking that kept him in the Wigan side, usually on the wing. But over the past three seasons he has established himself securely at stand-off, where he has shown that there is much more to his game than phenomenal point-scoring.

If and when Botica does return to Central Park, he will be 32 and will face sterner competition than ever for that jersey. Wigan are recalling Nigel Wright from loan at Wakefield Trinity, Sean Long has looked a player of limitless potential this season and Henry Paul's talents are arguably better suited to the stand-off role than to any other.

All three are competent goal-kickers, but none of them is Frano Botica, whose demoralising predictability has added an extra layer to Wigan's domination of the British game. His off-field activities might make him a reluctant recruit for Auckland, but it will be business as usual this afternoon.

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