Loss of Mercer hinders Halifax

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The Independent Online

Halifax lost their unbeaten Super League record and their inspirational player-coach, Gary Mercer, as their bright start to the season hit the buffers yesterday.

With Wigan also defending a perfect record, something had to give. From the moment Wigan took a sixth-minute lead, it always looked likely to be the visitors, although Halifax asked their full quota of questions in an often absorbing game.

The trouble was that Wigan's parsimonious defence always had answers. In the first half alone, Kris Radlinski, Gary Connolly and Terry Newton all made exceptional try-saving tackles and, without ever being at their best in attack, Wigan gradually built up a match-winning position.

They started with an Andy Farrell penalty and then Willie Peters' pass sent Lee Gilmour over for their first try.

Apart from the effectiveness of Wigan's last-ditch tackling, Halifax also wasted some promising positions, notably when Mercer lost the ball after one of a number of dangerous breaks from Daryl Cardiss.

A penalty apiece kept the margin between the sides at six points at half time and Wigan effectively won it four minutes after the break when Farrell's clever chip-kick was plucked out of the air by Radlinski and Mick Cassidy arrived in support for the try.

Farrell landed the conversion and another penalty before another crucial tackle, by Peters on Cardiss, set up Wigan's third try. Brett Dallas, looking more and more the part on the right wing, scooped up the loose ball and simply had too much pace for the Halifax defence.

By that time, the Yorkshire side were without Mercer, whose leadership qualities are so vital. He was carried off with what looked like a serious knee injury, but his No 2, Martin Hall, was hopeful that the damage was relatively minor.

Even without Mercer, Halifax showed a grit and determination that bodes well for their ability to compete in the top half of the table. They were rewarded by Brett Goldspink's late try against his old club - the first Wigan had conceded for almost four hours.

But, if anything, Halifax were more content with their efforts than Wigan were with theirs. "We got the two points with what was probably our worst performance of the season," the home coach, Frank Endacott, said. "We didn't play the way we trained or the way we had talked about. I was very disappointed with our ball control, our defence and several other aspects.

"We will have to play a lot better than that against London on Friday night."

Other sides can be forgiven for wondering just how hard it is going to be to break Wigan down when they get it right.

Wigan: Radlinski; Dallas, Renouf, Connolly, Robinson; Farrell, Peters; O'Connor, Newton, Cowie, Betts, Haughton, Gilmour. Substitutes used: Mestrov, Cassidy, Johnson, Reber.

Halifax: Cardiss; Bloem, Florimo, Golden, Hassan; Pearson, Dunemann; Goldspink, Rowley, Gannon, Mercer, Foster, Moana. Substitutes used: Hobson, Tallec, Savelio, Naylor.

Referee: S Presley (Castleford).