Rugby League: Farrell just a step away from Wembley history: Premiership provides 17-year-old with last chance to impress Wigan

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The Independent Online
ANDREW FARRELL is one convincing performance away from becoming the youngest Wembley finalist since Shaun Edwards, his Wigan team-mate. Edwards, now one of the elder statemen in the Wigan side, was 17 years and 201 days when he played in the team beaten by Widnes in 1984. Farrell, who turns 18 at the end of May, can still make Wembley history by becoming the youngest winning Challenge Cup finalist.

Although he says he does not expect to be in the line-up to play next Saturday, Farrell has made the Wigan coach, John Monie, revise his Wembley plans. Monie tends to know his preferred team long before cup final day, but the way in which Farrell has burst on to the scene over the past couple of weeks has given him cause to think again.

'He has changed my plans,' Monie said. 'He has put himself right into contention, although I'm conscious of the fact that playing him at Wembley would mean leaving a more experienced forward out of the squad.'

Monie had already decided to rest three key players - Andrew Farrar, Andy Platt and Phil Clarke - from the side to play Warrington in the Premiership first-round tie tomorrow in order to make sure that they will be fit for Wembley.

In addition, Frano Botica is out with a broken thumb, leaving Farrell with the extra responsibility of goalkicking. Neil Cowie and Joe Lydon have not recovered from injuries as quickly as hoped, but Kelvin Skerrett returns and his fitness will be closely watched.

Warrington, who finished eighth in the First Division, are still capable of being tricky opponents. 'They always fancy their chances at Central Park and have beaten us here once this season already,' Monie said. 'We have a lot of players missing but a lot playing who are hungry for first-team rugby.'

Widnes were hoping to field their Wembley side in the Premiership tie against Leeds tomorrow, but will not know until today whether either of their centres, Andy Currier and Darren Wright, will be fit to play. Their state of health has meant that the club have sent for the Brisbane Broncos utility back, Julian O'Neill. He will arrive here early next week. O'Neill played 11 matches on loan at Widnes earlier this season.

Doug Laughton, the Leeds and former Widnes coach, says that revenge for an embarrassingly one-sided Challenge Cup semi-final defeat by Widnes will be a secondary consideration tomorrow. 'The point is that we need to get to the Premiership final at Old Trafford,' he said.

The return of Craig Innes in the centres allows Garry Schofield - whose feud with Laughton appears to have been patched up for the present - to move back to stand-off.

The other First Division tie sees Castleford travel to Bradford Northern, who could further improve on a season in which they have already finished third in the table and reached the final of the Regal Trophy and the semi-final of the Challenge Cup.

The Divisional Premiership for Second and Third Division clubs has the potential for an upset or two. The impressive Keighley pack could give Rochdale Hornets problems and Workington - with the borrowed expertise of Phil McKenzie, Ged Byrne and Des Drummond to draw upon - will go to Huddersfield with some hope.