Wigan desperate for the Noble arts

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All the signs from both sides of the Pennines are that Wigan will get their man - although not in time for their most important game of the season.

The fallen giants of the game have identified Bradford's Brian Noble as the man to succeed the sacked Ian Millward and rescue them from their worst-ever start to a season - eight defeats in their first nine games.

Wigan play Harlequins, the side immediately above them in the Super League table, tomorrow. Defeat could, subject to other results, leave them five points adrift at the bottom. Longer term, they need an expert to sort out the mess into which they have got themselves.

It is easy to see why they would want Noble. His track record of eight major trophies in five years in charge of the Bulls is hugely impressive; mind you, so was Mill- ward's. Success has been more elusive in his other role as Great Britain coach, but Noble commands great respect and has deep reserves of the unflappability that will be needed over the next couple of years at the JJB.

What is harder to explain is why he would want to move. On the face of it, moving from the Super League and World Club champions to a club in Wigan's current disarray is preposterous, but Noble is set to do it.

On one level, he will relish a new challenge. Apart from a couple of short spells, he has been at Bradford all his playing and coaching life. He is a freeman of the city, but there comes a time to find your freedom elsewhere. Besides, Wigan is not such an unattractive job. They are a club who sack coaches at the rate of one a year, but the kudos for the man who gets it right will be considerable. For all their struggles, they still have the game's best reservoir of young talent.

Despite that, Noble would not be making the move if everything was fine at Bradford. They bounced back to win the title last season, but there are deep-seated financial problems that make the future look considerably less rosy. Nor will Noble have been impressed by the way the club have handled matters recently. The way they talked his assistant, Steve McNamara, out of taking the head coach's job at Hull smacked of trying to accelerate the succession. Noble himself would agree that his young No 2 should eventually take over - in contrast to Wigan, that is the Bradford way - but he must have felt as though he was being pushed out of the door.

Likewise when Wigan came knocking. Bradford could have said: "Over our dead bodies." Instead, their attitude seemed to be: "Come in, have a look around, take what you fancy." That will probably turn out to include a couple of players, as a fat fee from a desperate rival could make a big hole in the Bradford debt.

Tomorrow, Wigan have to make do with what they've got. With the Harlequins trio of Mark McLinden, Luke Dorn and Thomas Leuluai finally all fit, they could lose again - and that would leave Noble with an even bigger challenge waiting for him.

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