AUSTRALIA'S Kangaroo tourists landed here only 10 days ago and the dent they are making in British rugby league gets deeper every time they play. Yesterday they dismantled the confident pride we had that Wigan, club champions of the world, would be formidable enough to raise this game to Test match heights. The visitors did so with a performance that in the end carried more potency in the threat than in sustained execution. They appeared to end the game with more than bulging muscles up their sleeves.
Wigan's achievement was to cobble together a scoreline that carries little stigma - and that was no small feat because their opponents punched a try through the solar plexus before the first two minutes were up. Generously bathed in Wigan's version of the Bondi sun, the Australians proceeded to give swift indications of their awesome depths of power and skill and, after five minutes of ominously powerful surges, a victory margin of 50 points would have been a modest ambition.
But Central Park's stunned 20,000, each wondering why they bothered to bring a larynx, was suddenly enthused when the winger Jason Robinson levelled the score when he surged past Ricky Stuart for a try that Frano Botica converted.
Alas, the zest that was put back into Wigan hearts was soon subdued when Kelvin Skerrett was sin-binned for leading with his elbow as he tried to run the ball through the towering Paul Sironen. There was a serious limit to Wigan's prospects when they had 13 men; with 12 there was little they could do to prevent the Aussies reasserting themselves to take a 26-6 half-time lead.
Robinson continued to bring optimism to the terraces throughout the game and he found willing souls around him in the second half, particularly Va'aiga Tuigamala who scored an excellent individual try. But, in truth, Wigan's heroes were of the burning deck variety and their brighter spells were mere skirmishes. Australia had the clear upper hand whenever it became a battle.
Clutchers of straws might care to remember that Wigan are capable of freezing uncharacteristically on the big occasion. They did so in the Regal Trophy final which they lost to Castleford last season. That was the last time their play was exposed as verging on the inept.
Considering that Botica kicked off, it took some believing how quickly Australia went into the lead. The ball was brought back into Wigan's half with a 45-yard run by the hooker Steve Walters, a constant menace around the play-the- ball. Martin Offiah dropped the first pass he had been given, and, two moves later, Bradley Clyde cut right through the heart of Wigan's defence to score.
A few moments later, the new wing sensation Wendell Sailor brushed aside the formidable form of Skerrett before running 50 yards. Only Offiah had the speed to bring him down but already the signs had been carved deep into the Central Park turf and from then on the only issue in doubt was what on earth the British coach Ellery Hanley is going to do to counter the Aussies' strengths before the first Test at Wembley in two weeks' time.
The one visible weakness in the Australian weaponry is the lack of accurate goal-kicking. Laurie Daley converted one when Mal Meninga was off the field receiving stitches in the first half, and Meninga converted two on his return. Thereafter, the Australian captain began slicing his kicks, and handed the duty back to Daley, who did not do any better. But any hope one draws from that is more than dashed by the sight of the Kangaroos when they hit top gear.
Their second try was scored by the prop Dean Pay after Walters and Stuart put him in sight of a gap. It was the way the Australian forwards spotted and exploited the gaps so swiftly and efficiently even before their backs got into the act that was so chillingly impressive.
The excellent Daley soon got on to the scoresheet and Wigan's spirits were at their lowest when centre Steve Renouf scored the fourth try, taking an accurate long pass from Pay on the halfway line to spurt past Robinson, Shaun Edwards and Martin Hall with a disturbing lack of interruption.
When Michael Hancock sent Botica and Gary Connolly the wrong way to score just before the interval it was a shell- shocked Central Park that spent the interval in solemn discussion.
Tuigamala brought them back to life, chipping the ball over Sailor to gather it and drive himself past three tacklers and over the line. But that was almost immediately countered when Brett Mullins capped a brilliant full-back display when he caught a chip ahead from Henry Paul and ran the ball 80 yards to the Wigan line with his pursuers never closer than two yards.
Connolly scored the try he deserved and Offiah put the last touches to the consolation with a try under the posts.
Wigan: Tries: Robinson, Tuigamala, Connolly, Offiah. Goals: Botica, Farrell. Australia: Tries: Clyde, Pay, Daley, Renouf, Hancock, Mullins. Goals: Daley, Meninga 2.
Wigan: Connolly (Botica, 58); Robinson, Paul, Tuigamala, Offiah; Botica (Atcheson, h/t), Edwards (capt); Skerrett (McDermott, 35), Hall, Cowie (Cassidy, 26), Betts, Farrell, Clarke.
Australia: Mullins (Canberra); Hancock (Brisbane), Meninga (Canberra, capt), Renouf, Sailor (both Brisbane); Daley, Stuart (both Canberra); Pay (Canterbury), S Walters (Canberra), Roberts (Manly), Sironen (Balmain), Clyde (Canberra), Fittler (Penrith). Substitutes: Fairleigh (Norths) for Sironen (40).
Referee: D Campbell (Widnes).
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