Wigan appoint Millward coach and demote Betts to assistant

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Wigan have acted decisively to halt their slide by recruiting Ian Millward, the deposed coach of their arch rivals St Helens, to coach them for the next three and a half years.

The deal, which has looked inevitable since Millward was sacked by Saints two weeks ago, was sealed in a long-distance phone call from the Wigan chairman, Maurice Lindsay, who is in Australia on a scouting trip.

News of Wigan's latest defeat, their eighth of the season, at home to Huddersfield on Friday night, appears to have spurred Lindsay into action. He said in a radio interview that the club's acting coach, Denis Betts, was too young for the job and needed an experienced operator working alongside him.

"We want to make it clear that we are not dispensing of the services of Denis Betts,'' Lindsay said. "Denis has enormous potential to be a top-class British coach, but he inherited the team at a difficult time.

"We believe he has actually performed very well; at the same time, the club has been presented with the opportunity to secure the services of one of the world's most successful coaches. We are not concerned or even interested in the circumstances concerning his departure from St Helens. It is nothing to do with the Wigan club.

"The simple facts are that Ian is a tremendously successful coach who gets the best out of all his players."

Millward's first game in charge will be at Salford next Sunday, but one date he will already have ringed in red in his diary is 26 June, when Wigan go to St Helens in the Challenge Cup.

Yesterday, he was at pains to underline his respect for the club he is joining.

"As St Helens coach they were always serious rivals, but like everyone in the game I have the utmost respect for their tradition and standing,'' he said. "Maurice rang me this weekend for the first time, but it took us both only five minutes to agree to me coming.''

Betts will not necessarily find it easy to revert to an assistant's role, but he said: "I'm genuinely pleased that Ian is joining the club. I'm a young coach, full of ambition, and I realise that working with Ian will help me to reach my goals.''

Millward is one of the most controversial figures in the game and was particularly adept at winding up Wigan supporters during his five years in charge at Knowsley Road, in which he won five major trophies.

There was rarely a dull moment, with his deliberately weakened team selection at Bradford last season and the betting scandal that followed it representing the biggest upheaval of his time at Saints.

That was until this month when he was suspended and then sacked for what the club described as "gross misconduct'' involving three charges of using abusive language to club or match officials.

Saints have since appointed Daniel Anderson, who is due to arrive today. Millward had announced his intention of suing for wrongful dismissal, but he may now drop that case to concentrate on his new job.

Betts, 35, is one of Wigan's favourite sons, spending most of his playing career with them and joining their coaching staff when he retired. He has been acting head coach since Mike Gregory was forced off work with illness a little over a year ago.

Wigan have had their successes under his coaching, including a dramatic Good Friday win over Saints. But they are now in serious danger of missing out on the play-offs. After their 26-24 defeat by Huddersfield, Betts said the performance was "just not good enough for this club".

Now it is clear that his employers, Lindsay and the club's owner, Dave Whelan, have come to the same conclusion.