Hughes is facing hard decisions

Click to follow
The Independent Online
The St Helens coach, Eric Hughes, faces not just one but a series of difficult decisions today when he finalises his side to meet Wigan at Huddersfield for the Regal Trophy, writes Dave Hadfield. It is upon getting those decisions right that Saints' chances of upstaging Wigan in this afternoon's final depend.

Although all the club's injury victims have been officially pronounced fit and available for selection, it is quite another thing to be confident that they can come through a final unscathed. With only two substitutes allowed in cup competitions, there is a limit to the number of risks Hughes can take, which could mean that the prop Adam Fogerty will be left out.

Fogerty was hobbling and wincing on a knee earlier in the week in a manner that suggested it would be months rather than days before he was fully functional. But, then again, he is an actor - with roles in Coronation Street and Heartbeat to his credit - so perhaps there was method in his malady.

The other thorny problem concerns Paul Newlove. The temptation to include him, now that he is fit to train on his damaged foot, is obvious, because he is a genuine match-winner. But his injury is not the sort that can be strapped up very effectively and for him to break down, as he could, early in the game would be a major psychological and tactical blow.

One factor that has to be taken into consideration is the form of the player who would fill in for him. In the case of Andy Northey, that form is excellent and letting him carry on looks a better bet than gambling on even such an exceptional talent as Newlove.

Much the same applies to Anthony Sullivan, who is second only to Martin Offiah as a try-scorer this season, but who has been out with a calf injury since 20 December. Again the quality of the replacement is worth considering, as Danny Arnold is the most impressive rookie to emerge this season.

The suspicion is that Saints will be grateful - and will settle - for having Chris Joynt back to complete a pack that could now carry real menace. If Joynt's shoulder is up to the job and he takes his place alongside the likes of Apollo Perelini, Vila Matautia and the slippery Keiron Cunningham, they have the forwards to take Wigan on. Perelini has proved himself a prop of the highest order this season and Matautia, while still raw has a brooding power and makes a fierce impact

But can Saints really harpoon the leviathan that is Wigan in what could be the last Regal Trophy final? Well, we can dismiss out of hand the assertion from Edwards, the Wigan captain, that they are the underdogs in this or any other final. They start favourites because of their unrivalled expertise in big matches and because their key players, Edwards included, rarely fail to produce the goods when it matters.

Kelvin Skerrett's back has ruled him out with Neil Cowie returing from suspension in his place. The loss of Skerrett weakens a Wigan side already lacking the all-round ability of Andy Farrell. However, some of their less celebrated individuals, like Kris Radlinski, Martin Hall, Terry O'Connor and Mick Cassidy, have given them their old, solid, reliable look again over the last couple of weeks.

You gamble against them at your peril.

Wigan: Connolly; Robinson, Tuigamala, Radlinski, Offiah; Paul, Edwards (capt); Cowie, Hall, O'Connor, Quinnell, Cassidy, Haughton. Substitutes: Smyth, Dermott.

n The Rugby League has accepted an invitation from the organisers to play in the Middlesex Sevens in May. The club to play in the tournament will be named on Monday.

n The Bradford centre, Matt Calland, has failed in an appeal against a suspension that will keep him out until March.

n Warrington's Tongan centre, Salesi Finau, has been banned for two matches after being sent off at St Helens last Sunday, but their full-back, Lee Penny, has escaped without a suspension.

Comments