Wigan under pressure before must-win play-off

 

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The Independent Online

Wigan's players, in purdah all week, must do their talking on the pitch tomorrow, if what promised to be an all-conquering season is not to end with a sense of disappointment.

The Challenge Cup winners have been unable to recapture their best form since Wembley and were beaten by St Helens in the first round of the play-offs last weekend.

Their second and last chance comes against the Catalan Dragons and the Wigan coach, Michael Maguire, has tried to concentrate minds by imposing a media ban this week. "The RFL has made representations to Wigan and the Wigan chairman this week, but the club has decided not to change its stance," said a spokesman.

Leaving aside the question of whether that puts Wigan in breach of the Rugby League's code of conduct, it could be seen by the French side as evidence of the pressure their opponents are under.

If Wigan lose tomorrow night, it will be Maguire's last game in charge and he would dearly love to go out as a winner. That depends on his ability to extract a few more drops of energy from a squad which, against St Helens, looked close to exhaustion.

The changes Maguire could sensibly make are limited. He has Lee Mossop back from injury and he is the logical replacement for Ben Cross, who suffered a reaction last week after his quick return from a broken arm.

The Catalans are forced into one change from the side that accounted for Hull KR so convincingly by the absence of the rugged David Ferriol, suspended for one match for leading into the tackle with his knee in that match.

His coach, Trent Robinson, is philosophical about being without him: "He's an intimidating prop and a hard man and he's paid the consequences. It takes a bit of fire out of our game."

Robinson has Michael Simon and Cyril Gossard standing by as potential replacements, but neither has the sheer physical presence of Ferriol. But the Dragons, whose success this season comes after finishing last in 2010, do have Setaimata Sa available to add aggression to the back line.

Their form has gathered momentum and they represent a real threat at the DW Stadium. Warrington will make their choice of their next opponent in the play-offs immediately after the match at Wigan.

Crusaders, who recently chose to drop out of Super League, will either compete in the Championship or Championship One next season, after the RFL accepted one of two applications from separate consortia to run a club in Wrexham.

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