Offiah's hat-trick followed by injury

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The Independent Online
Widnes 12

Wigan 46

Given the likelihood of dj vu, an encouraging Widnes turn-out on a snowy night at least saw their side escape a recurring nightmare. Wigan, though, must have viewed the victory with mixed feelings, losing both Martin Offiah and Frano Botica to injury, which in Offiah's case could threaten his Challenge Cup semi-final appearance.

The suspicion was that Widnes had thrown in the towel before the start when they announced seven changes to the side that went down 26-12 in last Saturday's quarter-final, including three debutants promoted from the Alliance side. Wigan had Denis Betts out with a shoulder injury, swapped one top-class hooker, Martin Hall, for another, Martin Dermott, and gave New Zealander Henry Hall a rest on the bench, putting Paul Atcheson in at full-back in his place.

Widnes, though, started as they had done in the Cup tie, with a try scored from a ball chipped forward, just as their attack seemed to be faltering. Centre Darren Wright dropped on to Karl Hammond's kick, Hammond kicked the goal, and Widnes led 6-0 after four minutes.

Wigan raised their pace a notch, and resumed their occupation of the Widnes half. A run across the face of the try line from winger Jason Robinson found Offiah prepared to dive in at the left-hand corner flag. Botica kicked the first of his seven goals from the touchline.

The rest of the half became a familiar procession. Neil Cowie scored after a sweetly timed pass from Sean Edwards, Edwards was at the start of the move that put Va'aiga Tuigamala through, and Offiah, finishing off the best move of the match, claimed his second.

Widnes finally broke out as the interval loomed, and, winning a penalty after a brave run from their young winger, Jason Green, set up a position that brought a try for hooker Anthony Singleton. Hammond's goal made it 24-12 at half-time.

Widnes came out with a fresh charge of adrenalin for the second half, but Wigan's defence was in its stride and all they needed to do was to bide their time. After 15 minutes their counter-attack brought tries for Barrie Jon Mather, taking an overhead pass from Gary Connolly, Offiah, Phil Clarke and Cowie once again with Connolly crucial in the move.

Offiah, put away for his hat-trick by Paul, showed all the classic signs of a pulled hamstring over the last 20 yards of his run and went off immediately. Better news emerged after treatment when it was stated that he had pulled a thigh muscle. Soon after Offiah's departure Botica limped off with an injured left ankle.

Widnes: Davidson; Green, Ruane, Wright, Hunter; Hammond, Ashton; Makin (Singleton,69), Singleton (Cassidy, 58) Smyth, Collier (Halliwell, 52), O'Neill, Myers.

Wigan: Atcheson; Robinson, Tuigamala, Connolly, Offiah (Quinnell, 61); Botica (Clarke, 76), Edwards; O'Connor, Dermott, Cowie (Paul, 45) Mather, Cassidy, Clarke (Cowie, 67).

Referee: C Morris (Huddersfield).