Millward pays price for Wigan's woeful start

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The Independent Online

Ian Millward has been sensationally sacked by Wigan, less than a year after joining them in equally dramatic fashion. A terse statement from Wigan yesterday afternoon said that the Australian had been dismissed and had already left the club.

His assistants, Stuart Wilkinson and Andrew Farrar, have been put in charge of preparations for the game against Millward's former club, St Helens, on Friday.

An injury-hit Wigan side have had a dreadful season, winning just one of their eight Super League matches and lying bottom of the table, with the unimaginable spectre of relegation looming larger every week.

The only bright spot has been a Challenge Cup victory at Wakefield, but even that was followed by an embarrassing 40-14 defeat by the same opponents last Friday to leave them stranded at the bottom of the league.

Millward's sacking is the second in 11 months for the Australian, who could have claimed at the start of last season to be the most successful coach of the Super League era. After reviving Leigh, he was appointed by St Helens in 2000 and brought them a steady supply of silverware. That all ended in tears last year, when Millward was sacked for "gross misconduct" - a result of three charges of swearing at club or league functionaries. He threatened to sue the club for wrongful dismissal, but agreed a settlement earlier this year that saw Saints cover part of his legal costs.

In any event, he was out of work for less than two weeks. Wigan had long been admirers of the success he had brought to their neighbours and the owner, Dave Whelan, described him as "one of the best coaches in world sport" when he was appointed last May.

He was unable to reverse Wigan's decline, however, with the side he inherited losing seven of 15 matches last season, including morale-sapping thrashings from Leeds, by 70-0, and St Helens, by 75-0, in the Challenge Cup quarter-final.

Wigan missed the Super League play-offs for the first time as the season was virtually written off. This one was supposed to be completely different, with extensive recruitment producing a team much more in Millward's image.

Instead, matters have simply got worse, with long-term injuries exposing a threadbare squad, which has lost to the likes of Salford, Castleford and the new French side, the Catalan Dragons. After the latest defeat, at Wakefield, Millward denied he was feeling any pressure. "I've got a three year contract and I'm here for the long haul," he said. "There are a lot of problems at the club and I'm here to sort them out."

What happens next is anybody's guess, fact being far stranger than fiction at Wigan over the last few months. The club chairman, Maurice Lindsay, whose recruitment before Millward arrived is widely blamed by their supporters for their current plight, may move for a former talisman, like Ellery Hanley, Andy Farrell or Shaun Edwards. Farrell, however, remains keen to finally play some rugby union for Saracens and this is no job for beginner, while Edwards is happy at Wasps.

The former Wigan assistant coach, John Kear, sacked by Hull last week, has ruled himself out, but the one-time Australian Test coach Chris Anderson may be a candidate. The former Wigan half-back Adrian Lam is another who could be in the frame.

Anderson is out of work since his foray into Welsh rugby union and has been friendly with Lindsay for years. He wants one last tilt at a club job and could be the safe pair of hands Wigan need in turbulent waters.

* The Australian half-back, Brad Davis who retired after steering Castleford back into the top flight, has been included in the squad to meet Wakefield on Friday and is expected to play.

Rise and fall: Wigan in the Super League era 1996-2006

1996 Second in newly created Super League table.

1997 Fourth place.

1998 Win first Super League Grand Final but lose in Challenge Cup final.

1999 Fourth but knocked out in play-offs' first round.

2000 Top of Super League but beaten by St Helens in Grand Final.

2001 Second in Super League and lose to Bradford in Grand Final.

2002 Third place, but beat Saints in Challenge Cup - Wigan's last trophy.

2003 Third, then beaten by Bradford in Grand Final.

2004 Fourth place, and Challenge Cup final defeat by Saints.

2005 Seventh place.

2006 Currently bottom.