Rugby League: Hughes has early look at Wigan

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ERIC HUGHES, the new St Helens coach, will keep a watching brief during the Boxing Day derby at Wigan on Sunday. Hughes was confirmed in the post yesterday.

He succeeds Mike McClennan, who resigned last week. But for the most demanding game of a troubled season, the club captain, Shane Cooper, will be in charge while Hughes, promoted from Academy coach, makes a first trip with the first team in order to get to know them.

Hughes, who takes over officially on Monday morning, will find that the match provides an early sight of the standard to which Saints must aspire. 'My work here starts next week, but I'll be as nervous as anyone on Sunday,' he said. 'Every club in the game has lived in the shadow of Wigan, but I haven't come into this job to be second best to them.'

Hughes, who coached at Widnes and Rochdale during the Eighties, will be a full-time coach for the first time. 'The job has changed beyond recognition and doing it full-time is the only way to do it,' he said.

Some of Saints' current problems are evident in the side named by Cooper. Tea Ropati is out with a recurrence of his Achilles tendon injury and, although David Lyon will have a late test on his back, Steve Prescott - one of the young players to whom Hughes may look increasingly - is named at full-back.

Despite his enthusiasm for the quality of young players making their way through the ranks at St Helens, Hughes admitted that he would want money to strengthen his squad. 'It is a bit thin,' he said.

Wigan are set to make significant changes from the side who beat Warrington so convincingly in the Regal Trophy last Saturday.

Martin Offiah will return on the left wing, although Paul Stevens stands by as a precaution, and Shaun Edwards will start at scrum-half, with Frano Botica moving to stand-off and Sam Panapa dropping to the bench. Alongside him will be Martin Dermott, because Martin Hall hangs on to the hooking role.

Warrington have had a dreadful week, crashing out of the Regal Trophy to Wigan and losing in the league at Wakefield. Injuries mean that the only meaningful change their coach, Brian Johnson, can make is to bring Mike Gregory into the squad.

'It wasn't just our young players who let us down at Wakefield,' Johnson said. 'But Mike's experience can certainly help to get us back into the groove.'

The Bradford coach, Peter Fox, has shown seasonal goodwill by allowing Gerald Cordle, his first-choice wing, to spend Christmas with his family in Wales. Steve McGowan will play against Halifax in his place.

Leigh hope to field no less than four players on loan from Oldham against Sheffield Eagles on Monday. Mark Meadows, Ben Olsen, Paul Groves and Sean Devine are all poised to make their debuts as their coach, Steve Simms, tries to graft experience on to his young side.