Paul keeps Wigan in touch

Rugby league: Sheffield Eagles 12 Wigan 54
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The Independent Online
Wigan began the post-Offiah era in confident mood with a convincing victory that maintains their pursuit of St Helens at the top of the Stones Super League.

With their prolific winger departed and Shaun Edwards spending almost three-quarters of the match nursing his wounded knee and wounded pride on the bench, the onus fell, as it has in recent weeks, on a mixture of established stars and young aspirants.

They were more than good enough for the Eagles. Wins at Sheffield did not come easily, Wigan being the only side to leave with two points during the previous 11 months, but they were never in any danger at Bramall Lane last night from the moment that Henry Paul put them ahead, scooping up a loose pass to skirt around the defence and touch down.

A wriggling run from Jason Robinson, set up by Craig Murdock's pass, produced the second Wigan try and when Paul managed to spin in the tackle to send in Simon Haughton, Wigan were on their way to a clear-cut and morale-boosting result.

John Lawless, the England hooker and the one player to cause them any trouble, found a gap for an Eagles try to leave them only 10 points in arrears at half-time, but Wigan soon finished the job.

Their first try of the second-half was an odd one, Gary Connolly tripping on his way to the line but picking himself up to touch the ball down. A wonderful 65-yard run from Paul gave him his second and Martin Hall's charge and offload released Edwards' replacement Murdock, enjoying one of his best Wigan games, for yet another.

There was a brief respite for the Eagles when their Frenchman, Jean-Marc Garcia, took a clever inside pass from Keith Senior to score, but Edwards announced his arrival in the game with a try presented to him on a plate by the effervescent Paul.

Some brilliant handling, culminating in Kelvin Skerrett's instant pass on to Hall continued the rout and it was fitting that the two young wingers who will contest Offiah's berth should combine for the final try.

Rob Smyth was halted just short of the line, but Danny Ellison raced to acting half-back to pick up and dart over. Andy Farrell, whose combination with Paul was a constant delight, added a ninth goal from as many attempts.

Wigan are still a point behind Saints with games running out, but they are at least winning their matches with a little more to spare than their rivals.

Their coach, Graeme West, was certainly encouraged. "Every week since losing at Bradford, we've got a little bit better and this was another step up," he said. "It was our best all-round team performance since we beat St Helens."

Sheffield: Sovatabua, Scott, Crowther, Senior, Garcia, Lawford, Aston, Broadbent, Lawless, Laughton, Hay, McAllister, Carr. Substitutes used: Dakutoga, Mycoe, Turner, Hughes.

Wigan: Radlinski, Robinson, Tuigamala, Connolly, Ellison, Paul, Murdock, O'Connor, Hall, Cowie, Haughton, Cassidy, Farrell. Subsititutes used: Skerrett, Edwards, Smyth, Barrow.

Referee: S Presley (Castleford).