Ainscough comes of age as Wigan shine

Wigan 34 Castleford 12
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Jamie Ainscough finally showed the form that made him a State Of Origin player in Australia with a try and an important hand in three others as Wigan won a dress rehearsal for their Challenge Cup semi-final in two weeks' time with some comfort.

Ainscough, criticised as an inadequate replacement for Steve Renouf after some less than sparkling early-season form, demonstrated what he can do in an influential all-round display as he recovered from a couple of early blemishes. "He is an 80-minute player and it takes him a while to get going sometimes,'' said his coach, Stuart Raper. "But he is getting better.''

Castleford were the more threatening side in the first quarter, but failed to take advantage of their opportunities. Wayne Bartrim missed badly with a penalty. Waine Pryce's run down the right was ended by Kris Radlinski's tackle and Danny Orr's fine break was ruined by his failed attempt to find the supporting Andy Lynch.

Wigan had been slow to get into gear, their nervousness epitomised by two knock-ons by Ainscough, one of the expensive imports in whom so much hope has been invested this season. He was to figure prominently, however, when Wigan cut loose from midway in the first half.

After Andy Farrell and Adrian Lam had sent the highly promising young back-rower, Stephen Wild, in for his first Super League try, Ainscough started a move that ended with Paul Johnson supplying the scoring pass for Radlinski.

If that was a well-worked try, the next was even better, Farrell and Ainscough preparing the way before Terry Newton turned the ball inside for Brett Dallas to finish.

With Farrell landing all three goals, Wigan were nicely on their way and when Julian O'Neill sent Ainscough in for their fourth try it seemed a question of how many more they would score.

But with thoughts possibly drifting to Monday's game with St Helens, they allowed Castleford to get some sort of foothold in the match when Michael Smith sent Michael Eagar through an alarming gap in the defensive line.

After Farrell appeared to have the ball ripped from his grasp after a tackle had been completed, Castleford were nevertheless given the advantage at the scrum and seized it eagerly when Orr's pass released Jon Wells for their second try.

They had left themselves with too much to do and Wigan eased back into a more commanding lead when Ainscough's instant pass gave Dallas his second.

Castkeford kept plugging away at what was by now a hopeless task, Darren Rogers taking Orr's pass to go over in the corner, but Wigan replied with a well-deserved try by Johnson.

The downside for Raper was a groin injury to Radlinski that could keep him out on Monday, whilst his opposite number, Graham Steadman, was left insisting that it will be a different story in the semi-final.

Wigan Warriors: Radlinski; Dallas, Ainscough, Johnson, Hodgson; O'Neill, Lam; O'Connor, Newton, Bibey, Wild, Furner, Farrell. Substitutes used: Mark Smith, Carney, Howard, Haughton.

Castleford Tigers: Lennon, Pryce, Eagar, Wells, Rodgers, Orr, Healey, Sykes, Bartrim, Lynch, Fritz, Harland, Hudson. Substitutes used: Michael Smith, Warren, Godwin, Sampson.

Referee: S Ganson (St Helens).