Odds stacked against Saints

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The Independent Online
rugby league

by dave hadfield

In those ancient times before Wigan began winning everything every year, all was considered to be well if they at least beat St Helens. In the Challenge Cup, every Wigan coach since 1982 has been able to obey that imperative. The two sides have met in the game's premier knock-out competition no less than eight times since then and Wigan have won the lot.

One day, Saints are going to break that demoralising sequence, but today does not look like it. The current Wigan coach, Graeme West, will, barring any reaction this morning to yesterday's training, have the luxury of adding Jason Robinson, Denis Betts and Andy Farrell to a side that played some of its best rugby of the season against Castleford last week.

Saints' Eric Hughes, on the other hand, has to risk players whose match fitness is in doubt. That is the sort of stacking of the odds that they cannot afford.

"Leeds are probably the only side who can stop Wigan winning the league, but I still think we are the team best equipped to beat them in a cup- tie," said Alan Hunte, one of Saints' numerous borderline cases.

He, like Scott Gibbs, is likely to start the match. "We have to take a few gambles," Hughes said.

There were groans - and not just from the St Helens table - when Wigan and Saints came out of the draw together once more. Two other leading First Division sides will also go out of the competition tomorrow, when Leeds meet Bradford Northern and Castleford visit Warrington.

Garry Schofield has been passed fit to play for Leeds, despite being left out of England's team to play France next Wednesday with a pelvic strain. Francis Cummins is back from World Sevens duty and James Lowes is also fit to play in a full-strength team.

Bradford are without Paul Newlove, but have the boost of their influential forward, Karl Fairbank, returning after a long absence with a detached retina.

Warrington have Bruce McGuire available after being found not guilty of a high tackle charge, and Castleford have Graham Steadman and Richard Goddard back, with Nathan Sykes preferred to Martin Ketteridge at prop.

Wakefield Trinity, drawn at Whitehaven, are the First Division club most in danger of being on the wrong end of an upset. John Devereux plays his first game of the season for Widnes at Carlisle.

The one remaining amateur side, Beverley, play Batley and are better fairy-tale material than most. Only re-formed in 1980, they almost folded midway through the decade when they had only nine players for a match. But they will have a full complement and plenty of support at The Boulevard tomorrow.