Rugby League: Castleford poised to end era

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The Independent Online
WE are in uncharted territory this afternoon. There are no maps for terrain on which Wigan are expected to lose and you can only navigate by instinct, writes Dave Hadfield.

There are two irreconcilable ways of looking at today's Challenge Cup semi-final against Castleford at Headingley. You can rely on current form, which leads unerringly to one conclusion; or on custom and practice, which sends you off in the opposite direction.

The evidence of form goes far beyond the two humiliating defeats that Castleford have inflicted upon Wigan this season - 46-0 against an under-strength team in the league and 33-2 in a remarkable Regal Trophy final. It also encompasses the fact that Wigan have simply not looked the part in many matches.

It would be easier to dismiss those Castleford results as aberrations if they had played with much conviction against the likes of Wakefield, Featherstone and Leigh.

By contrast with Castleford's charmed, injury-free season, Wigan have been dislocated by absences. But, even with everyone fit, it would be a brave man who could name their best side.

They have reached this stage of the season without finding their ideal half-back combination, settling the matter of full-back or deciding where Frano Botica should play.

The likely plan today is for Paul Atcheson to play full-back, with Botica partnering Shaun Edwards at half-back, Neil Cowie at prop, Sam Panapa at loose forward and Joe Lydon on the bench.

Castleford field the same side every week, although their coach, John Joyner, was playing his cards close to his chest yesterday, which is slightly pointless when everyone knows what the team will be.

That continuity will be of inestimable value. Players have worked out all manner of combinations which Wigan, for all their individual class, lack at the moment. But this is Wigan in a Challenge Cup semi-final, and not only the form- book but every last vestige of logic could go out of the window.

Castleford: Steadman; Ellis, Blackmore, Anderson, Middleton; Kemp, Ford; Crooks, Russell, Ketteridge, Morrison, Smales, Nikau. Substitutes: Hay, England.

Wigan: Atcheson; Robinson, Mather, Connolly, Offiah; Botica, Edwards; Skerrett, Cassidy, Cowie, Farrell, McGinty, Panapa. Substitutes: Lydon, Gildart.

Referee: S Cummings (Widnes).

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