Wigan start new era in need of the Millward magic

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The Independent Online

The new French team in Super League next season want to begin life by having a second crack at Wigan.

The new French team in Super League next season want to begin life by having a second crack at Wigan.

Union Treiziste Catalane lost narrowly- and some said undeservedly - in the Challenge Cup at the JJB earlier this month. Next year, when they will be re-branded as Les Catalans, they have put in a request for Wigan to be their first visitors in Perpignan.

"Wigan are still the biggest name in France," says the former Great Britain coach, David Waite, who is now UTC's director of rugby. "They have that aura attached to them; plus, we want another go at them, because we think we've a chance of winning."

That is a compliment of sorts to Wigan, but a back-handed one. The fact is that the most famous club in the game - in the South of France, at least - have become eminently beatable. Apart from UTC, the only team they have beaten in their last seven matches is Widnes - and that was a close-run thing. During that time, they have lost to Huddersfield twice, Leeds, Bradford and Warrington.

Hence the inevitability that they would go into their next game, at Salford tomorrow, under new management. If Denis Betts was genuinely surprised that Wigan have drafted in Ian Millward as head coach above him, then he was the only person that was.

Betts was unlucky because the squad he had this season were, once depleted by departures and long-term injuries, simply not good enough. It is not in the nature of the modern game that Millward will be able to improve it radically in mid-season, although there might be scope for some adjustments.

To begin with, however, Millward will have to get more out the current team than Betts could. They will find his approach bracing and there is every possibility that "new coach syndrome" will see them through tomorrow's first game under him with something to spare.

Salford have lost much of their momentum after a good start to the season and recent defeats by Bradford and twice by London have not been impressive. They can hope tomorrow to catch Wigan at a time of transition and there must be the prospect of something extra from a couple of Wigan old boys.

Luke Robinson and David Hodgson moved to The Willows at the end of last season and have done enough to suggest their former club could have used them this time.

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