Dallas eager to join Wigan's wing greats

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The Independent Online

The role of the winger in the modern game has changed ­ and Brett Dallas has the scars to prove it. The Australian flanker, who plays for Wigan in the Challenge Cup final against St Helens on Saturday, watched from afar on early morning television in the 1980s and 90s as Wigan wing-men like Henderson Gill, John Ferguson, Martin Offiah and Jason Robinson raced in for tries at Wembley.

As a potent try-scorer, Dallas is following in their fleet footsteps. The difference is that they rarely looked as though they had been through a war to get their touchdowns.

You cannot mention the C word at Wigan this week ­ concussion, that is ­ but Dallas has little recollection of the last try he scored, his 10th of the season so far, in the semi-final victory over Castleford 10 days ago.

For the record, he got the ball from David Hodgson's interception deep in his own half to get the score that turned the match Wigan's way just before half-time. "But I'd already copped a whack by then and I don't remember anything until about 65 minutes," he says. "I knew I'd done something, because I felt the pain through my cheekbone."

In fact, Dallas had got away fairly lightly. "When I went to the specialist, he found a small crack. A depressed fracture would have put me out for two months, but I got away with it."

He already carries a souvenir of his first season with Wigan in 2000, in the shape of a titanium plate in his jaw that holds together the damage inflicted in a match against Bradford.

"It could come out now, but I think I'll leave it there for a bit of re-enforcement. It's better for my peace of mind," he says ­ and the way that he has been thumped from pillar to post suggests that it is a wise precaution.

Frank Endacott, when he was Wigan coach, complained that Dallas was being targeted by opponents trying to put him out of the game and little has changed. Dallas has had some "get your retaliation in first" advice from the recently retired Wigan prop, Neil Cowie. "Neil has told me to get my arm up as I go into the tackle. Given his track record, I'm not sure whether to follow his advice."

It is messing with the front row players that creates part of the problem, because the days when a thoroughbred winger was expected to stay on his touchline and only take on other backs are long gone.

"Wingers are looked on as extra forwards now, especially when it comes to things like returning kicks. You find yourself running into forwards all the time."

Dallas will do that all afternoon if he has to, but Wigan fans and even neutrals at Murrayfield will hope to see him get into more open country, especially if that involves a foot race with St Helens's equally rapid Australian, Darren Albert. The term "flying machine" applies to Albert in more ways than one, because he is training as a commercial pilot.

In Australia, where Dallas was with Canterbury and North Sydney and Albert with Newcastle, the two never came in direct confrontation, as they both played on the right wing. But Stuart Raper has switched Dallas to the left this season.

"I don't know who's the quicker," he says, playing down the rivalry. "He's obviously very quick, but there's a lot more to his game than that, as I like to think there is in mine. That pace is very useful to have, but it's not the be-all-and-end-all."

Part of the reasoning behind Dallas's switch has been to team him up with the newly-signed Australian centre, Jamie Ainscough, who has the brief of keeping him well supplied. So far, the plan has worked only sporadically, but Dallas believes that Wigan's new antipodeans have been unjustly criticised so far this season: "It takes some time to settle in, but in the last couple of games Craig Smith has been great. People can expect too much, too soon. I was lucky, because I got off to a pretty good start and the supporters have been great with me from the off."

They love a good winger at Wigan, something that was well established in the club's character before Billy Boston laced a boot for them, and Dallas ­ in between getting battered, bruised and beaten up ­ has shown that he can be one of the best.

There is another important difference, apart from the injury toll. All the great Wigan wing-men won trophies; Dallas has only two Super League Grand Final losers' medals to show for his career with them so far. The race is on to start putting that right.

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