Fletcher joins pack as Wigan look to life after Farrell

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The Independent Online

Wigan have added experience and know-how to their pack for next season with the signing of the former Australian Test forward, Bryan Fletcher.

Wigan have added experience and know-how to their pack for next season with the signing of the former Australian Test forward, Bryan Fletcher.

Maurice Lindsay's scouting trip to Australia has paid swift dividends, with the 31-year-old South Sydney player agreeing a contract with the Wigan chairman for the 2006 and 2007 seasons.

The club's coach, Denis Betts, was understandably delighted with the news of the acquisition of one of the most skilful back-rowers in the game.

"We have long admired Bryan and he brings experience and maturity to our forward pack, which will be of great help to us, particularly following the loss of Andy Farrell to rugby union," Betts said.

"We actually tried to sign him at the beginning of the season, but he was too important to South Sydney." Fletcher rejected a new offer from Souths to fulfil an ambition to play in England.

"I was impressed by Wigan's team-building plans and I'm looking forward to joining what is obviously a young team with great ambition," he said.

Souths' chief executive, Shane Richardson, admitted that he had tried to retain Fletcher for another year. He is also keen, however, on the Wigan winger, Brian Carney, whom he signed for Gateshead and Hull, and is likely to have mentioned to Lindsay that he would like to take him to Australia at the end of this season.

"Bryan has been very up front about things and he feels the time is right for him to tackle a new challenge," Richardson said.

Fletcher's decision will come as a blow to Salford, who were also in the bidding for the second-rower, who won the last of his eight Test caps in 2003.

Ironically, the news of the signing comes as Wigan are poised to field their strongest team of the season against Huddersfield tomorrow night. Kris Radlinski is expected to return at full-back after a hamstring injury, leaving the long-term injury victims, Sean O'Loughlin and Gareth Hock, as the only absentees.

The arrival of the new St Helens coach, Daniel Anderson, in time for next weekend's top-of-the-table game against Leeds depends on him succeeding in a fast-track visa application in New Zealand. Anderson hopes to speed up the process by virtue of having had a Scottish grandfather.

"I am getting all the documents today to prove my ancestry and then I have to fly to Wellington to present myself to the British High Commission," Anderson said from his home in Auckland. "The Leeds game will be interesting. I worked with Tony [Smith, Leeds' head coach] when we were both assistant coaches at Parramatta. He has had a wonderful time with Leeds."

Anderson has already spoken to the caretaker coach, Dave Rotheram, and is excited about the prospect of working with Saints' talented squad.

"It is a magnificent organisation and a tremendous club," Anderson said. "Opportunities like this just do not come along very often."

Mick Cassidy, who missed Widnes' victory at Wakefield on Sunday with a leg strain, is back in their squad for this Saturday's match against Saints.