Saints and Wigan to pay tribute to stalwart

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The Independent Online

There will be a minute's silence in memory of Eric Ashton before today's match between the two clubs he served with such distinction.

Ashton, who died yesterday after a long illness, made almost 500 appearances for Wigan and won 26 Great Britain caps as the most cultured of centres.

In 1966 he became the first Rugby League player to be awarded the MBE and later led St Helens to great success as coach and chairman. In his various capacities, Ashton was involved in more Saints-Wigan derbies than anyone in the game, so remembering him at Knowsley Road today could hardly be more appropriate.

For this latest meeting of the old rivals, Saints, placed fourth and surprisingly beaten by the Catalan Dragons last week, have Sean Long back after a three-week absence with a knee injury, and Maurie Fa'asavalu will start again for the first time in three years.

Second-placed Wigan are without Gareth Hock with a broken thumb and have Joel Tomkins and Lee Mossop standing by as potential replacements.

There will be an equally-emotive derby slightly earlier in the day at a packed Craven Park, where Hull KR host their neighbours Hull.

With perfect timing, the game marks the return of Paul Cooke, the player whose exit from Hull to join Rovers last year brought the city as close to civil war as rugby ever could. It also brought Cooke a suspension for his part in the deal that took him across the city – but that sentence has now been served.

Hull have sometimes looked short of a playmaker since Cooke's departure, notably in their 42-6 humiliation the last time the two sides met. "The pain from that doesn't go away," said the Hull coach, Peter Sharp, who is able to pair up his winter signings, Shaun Berrigan and Adam Dykes, for only the second time.

Wakefield, who are at home to Castleford, have agreed extended contracts with four of their players – Ryan Atkins, Richard Moore, Dale Ferguson and Sean Gleeson. The signing of Atkins until 2011 is particularly significant as he was a target for several bigger clubs.

Chris Thorman is back for Huddersfield at Warrington after missing their dramatic late defeat by Wigan on Sunday.

Harlequins, at home to the Catalan Dragons, are without their props, Daniel Heckenberg and Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook, due to long-term injuries, but have influential players ready to return in Henry Paul, Scott Hill and Matt Gafa.

The Catalans are without the suspended Jerome Guisset, but have Adam Mogg free to continue at stand-off after he avoided a ban.

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