Desperate Wigan capture Fielden for record £450,000

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The Independent Online

Wigan have signalled their fierce determination not to be relegated from Super League by spending a world-record transfer fee to sign Stuart Fielden from Bradford.

The Bulls have described the price-tag as "approaching £450,000", topping the £440,000 Wigan spent on Martin Offiah, in 1992 when such transfer fees were considered the norm.

Fielden is the leading forward in Britain and possibly in the world, but the fee is three times the previous record for a prop - twice spent on Lee Crooks in 1987 and 1990 - and a mark of Wigan's desperation to close the six-point gap that separates them from safety with just 11 games left.

"This is a great opportunity for me and I jumped at the chance to work with Brian Noble once more," said the 26-year-old Fielden of rejoining his former Bradford coach.

By tying himself to Wigan until 2010, Fielden is giving up much: a testimonial next season; his ambitions to play in Australia and the guarantee of being in Super League next year.

"I don't think that will happen," he said of the possibility of relegation. "I don't believe it will. Historically, Wigan are the biggest club in rugby league and things will get better. I've needed a change for some time and this offers me a brilliant change."

The challenge for Bradford is to convince their supporters, still smarting from the loss of Jamie Peacock to Leeds, that they had no choice but to cash in on another player who was determined to leave.

The Bulls have admitted to losing £500,000 a year, but their chairman, Peter Hood, insisted: "Bradford is not and will not become a selling club.

"But when a player who has a year and a half remaining on his contract tells his head coach that he has made up his mind that he no longer wants to play for the club and instead wants his release - as Stuart did - then we are dealing with an extraordinary situation in which the club has little option but to consider letting him go."

Hood had promised Bradford's fans that no players would be sold. He is now adamant that there will be no more departures and that the Fielden fee will be invested in new talent.

Bradford have quoted Fielden as saying that he had moved for "a much bigger salary" and the mystery is how Wigan can accommodate that on their already strained salary cap.

"Maurice [Lindsay] handles the salary cap," said the club's owner Dave Whelan. "It's not easy, but I'm sure he'll be right with it, even if he has to move players around."

That could mean sending players on hastily-arranged loans, but Wigan clearly think that arrangement will be worth it in order to have Fielden in the side, starting with tonight's game against Warrington, which their other recent addition, Kris Radlinski, will miss with an injured knee.

"Stuart plays with the pride and passion I want all our players to play with," Noble said. "He will lift everyone at the club."

League's big money transfers

Stuart Fielden £450,000

Bradford to Wigan, 2006. Can he help avoid the drop?

Martin Offiah £440,000

Widnes to Wigan, 1992. Prolific try-scorer as Wigan swept all before them.

Paul Newlove £500,000 (including three players)

Bradford to St Helens, 1995. Saints got a match-winner and Bradford built a new team.

Paul Sculthorpe £370,000 (including one player)

Warrington to St Helens, 1997. Still looks a sound investment, despite recent injury problems.

Iestyn Harris £350,000 (including one player)

Warrington to Leeds, 1997. Leeds constructed a winning team around him.