Offiah eases Wigan's ire : RUGBY LEAGUE

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The Independent Online


St Helens 24

Wigan 40

It was exactly as St Helens, in their hearts, must have feared. You do not get a second chance against Wigan in the Silk Cut Challenge Cup and their effrontery in holding them to a draw on Saturday had to be paid for with interest in the replay last night.

Four converted tries in the 15 minutes before half-time exacted retribution and, although Saints garnered a measure of respectability after the break, there was never any doubt which side was going to Batley in the next round.

The gates closed at Knowsley Road with queues still stretching back 100 yards. What those locked out missed was the players on both sides giving a fair impression of a Lansdowne Road crowd, with an all-in brawl after 30 seconds.

After Wigan's Kelvin Skerrett and Martin Hall were sent to the sin-bin along with Saints' Bobby Goulding, Wigan channelled their fury more productively to sweep the home side out of their path in the first half.

In Goulding's absence, Steve Prescott put Saints ahead with a penalty but it was a brief interlude before the storm broke.

Despite their one-man disadvantage, Wigan soon grabbed the first try, thanks to Shaun Edwards' superb long pass to Jason Robinson. Frano Botica converted with equal aplomb from the touchline and added a simple penalty after Saints were caught stealing the ball.

Wigan looked an entirely different side from the one that was lucky to survive on Saturday but they suffered a temporary setback on 20 minutes. After a desperate sequence of passes to keep the ball alive, Goulding launched a high kick and was on hand to take the scoring pass and kick the goal after Phil Veivers had made the catch.

Wigan's response was rapid and devastating. Skerrett and Gary Connolly moved the ball out for Martin Offiah to score, with Botica this time kicking serenely from the opposite wing.

Botica's break then set up Connolly for a try scored despite Prescott's tackle. Offiah's second, after Robinson had made the running, and two more Botica goals built a commanding lead, embellished before half-time by Clarke's first try of the season, almost inevitably improved by Botica.

Just in case rugby league wanted to claim moral superiority over football - because all the violence is on the field - the second half was delayed briefly when a touch judge was hit by a missile.

Sonny Nickle then raised Saints' spirits with their second try, but that was only delaying further punishment, Offiah completing his hat-trick from a pass by the blood-bin substitute, Paul Atcheson, with Botica finally missing a shot at goal.

Chris Joynt and Ian Pickavance gave Saints some consolation but Wigan had the last word through Henry Paul. They are like the old gunfighter: if you wound them you had better finish them off, otherwise they will come back and get you.

St Helens: Prescott; Hunte, Gibbs (Elia, 24), Lyon, Sullivan; Veivers, Goulding; Neill (Dannatt , h-t), Cunningham, Pickavance, Joynt, Nickle, Cooper.

Wigan: Paul; Robinson, Tuigamala (Atcheson, 59), Connolly, Offiah; Botica, Edwards; Skerrett (Tuigamala, 72), Hall, Cowie, Betts, Farrell (Cassidy, 12), Clarke.

Referee: J Holdsworth (Kippax).

n Dennis Smith, the Whitehaven prop recruited this season from New Zealand, has been banned for three months after admitting taking ephedrine, a banned substance found in many cough and cold remedies.