Wilshere a lonely light in the gloom for Leigh

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The Independent Online

Leigh's battle to survive in Super League might be looking increasingly doomed to failure, but it has produced its heroes. John Wilshere was not a success with today's opponents, Warrington, last season, but his performances in what has often been a lost cause this year have marked him as a player who belongs at the top level.

"I think the difference is that we have given him a free role," says his coach, Darren Abram. "With his skill level, you can't put him into a structure." The Papua New Guinea Test winger has been switched to full-back at Leigh, with instructions to play the role as he sees fit. The result has been a level of performance that has been one of the few bright spots for the club's followers this year.

"It's easy to play well when your team are winning every week, it's not so easy when the team are not playing so well," Abram says. "This season, he has been up there with the best in Super League, with the sort of players that they have at St Helens and Leeds." If the worst happens and Leigh are relegated, Abram fully expects Wilshere to be playing at that level again next season, alongside a few other players who have made a success of this season's struggles.

Today is another chance for Wilshere to show, against a bang-in-form Warrington, that this is the competition in which he belongs. "I don't think he has any point to prove to anyone, although against Warrington he might feel that he has," Abram says.

Not that Warrington have exactly struggled since deciding to release him after an injury-ravaged first season with them. Their third place in Super League is the highest they have ever occupied, and in Henry Fa'afili they have the strike player that Wilshere, with last year's fitness problems, never quite became for them.

This afternoon they could be without Fa'afili's centre partner, Martin Gleeson, and Paul Noone, but the Wolves should have the strength in depth to overcome those absences. For Leigh, last week's defeat by Widnes was a hammer blow. They are now five points behind their season-long rivals and seven from any notion of safety. In reality, their brave fight - which has had some genuine highlights - is now certain to be in vain.

On the other hand, Widnes, who are at home to the London Broncos this afternoon, have the unmistakable scent of survival in their nostrils. Their coach, Frank Endacott, gleefully suggested this week that not only are Wakefield and Salford in danger of being dragged into the relegation zone, but that his old club, Wigan, could be under threat as well.

That is possibly stretching it, but it's the sort of idea you start to get when you have won three of your last four games. Before that run, they were even behind Leigh, but now the mood at the two clubs, and their prospects for the rest of the season, could not be more different.