Rugby League: Inspirational past master gives Wigan a fright: Gregory harries his old club to distraction but new generation repel brave effort by Salford

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SALFORD will never put up a braver, worthier display, but the abiding theme of a magnificent Regal Trophy semi-final was one of Wigan heroes past, present and future.

The past denotes Andy Gregory, tirelessly creative for Salford against the club for whom he enjoyed his finest days. The present is in the hands of exceptional young talents such as Jason Robinson and Andy Farrell - both hugely influential in this nerve- racking victory.

The future holds the intriguing prospect of seeing how Va'aiga Tuigamala, who watched Saturday's thriller from the stand, adapts to his new sport.

Gregory came close to orchestrating an unforgettable victory over the club which, in his eyes, humiliated him into leaving. After 14 largely miserable months at Leeds, the game owes Salford a debt for putting him back where he belongs - as the

undisputed tactical fulcrum of a team, rather than third or fourth in a confused chain of command.

Gregory probed and chided, nagged and harried from start to finish. At one point, he seemed to be delivering a lecture to the entire Wigan front-row. They stood and listened, as if there had been some slippage in the time-scale and Gregory was once more their scrum-half.

It was not a flawless performance. Amid all the passes that put his team-mates through gaps invisible to other eyes, there were a few that had them anxiously checking their health insurance.

His kicking was another feature and there would have been a perfect crowning moment to the match if his drop-goal attempt had gone between the posts, rather than hitting one of them, and Salford had clung on to the 13-12 lead it would have given them.

Well as Gregory ran Salford's general kicking game, he sometimes made the mistake of putting the ball in the vicinity of Robinson. Even in a side packed with damaging runners from deep positions, the 19-year-old winger is rapidly

becoming absolutely the last man any opponent should kick towards.

The way he returned Gregory's kick to set up Martin Offiah's try before half-time was stunning, but it was only one highlight of a performance that made Tuigamala, among many others, marvel at his potential.

One cannot use that word potential without veering on to the subject of the even younger Farrell. British rugby league would have murdered its own granny over the last 20 years for a forward of his size, power and handling ability. Now it has one and, into the bargain, he can kick goals and play stand-off, of all the apparently unrelated tasks, if required to do so.

This was one of Wigan's less assured and convincing performances of the 10 years during which they have been playing and winning big matches; the vigour and vivacity of Salford's challenge saw to that.

But the range of skills at the command of a man even bigger than himself and the dynamism of a relative shrimp like Robinson sent Tuigamala away with a healthy and enhanced respect for the demands of his new code.

He will watch again from the stand when Wigan meet Castleford in the final at Headingley on 22 January. An equally gripping match will keep everyone on the edge of their seats.

Salford: Jack; Critchley, Birkett, Williams, Ford; Blakeley, Gregory; Young (Stazicker, 77), Lee, O'Connor, Forber, Tauro (Marsden, 40), Burgess.

Wigan: Lydon; Robinson, Mather, Connolly, Offiah; Panapa (Cowie, 40), Edwards; Skerrett, Dermott (Cassidy, 47), Platt, Cowie (Betts, 27), Farrell, Clarke.

Referee: R Smith (Castleford).

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