Rugby League: Lacklustre Wigan pay price for players joining union

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St Helens 26 Wigan 12

It was not the only factor in a humiliating defeat, but Wigan on Saturday were not a good advert for allowing players to spend the winter playing rugby union.

For the second year running, they crashed out of the Silk Cut Challenge Cup that was for so long their private fiefdom. To do so at the hands of a St Helens side deprived for half the game of their dominant player, Bobbie Goulding, will make the pain of last year's defeat by Salford seem trivial.

Would Wigan have succumbed quite so tamely if Gary Connolly had been fit, or if their three other returnees from union had looked sharp and hungry? It seems unlikely.

Va'aiga Tuigamala, who is now expected to join Newcastle, was an object lesson in the different requirements of the two codes. He was as cumbersome and ponderous as he was when he first arrived at Central Park three years ago; he has readjusted to union and was of little use to Wigan in their hour of need on Saturday.

Not that the all-year-round contingent were the only ones at fault. Shaun Edwards has rarely been so anonymous in a big game and Andy Farrell, the other player to whom Wigan looked for leadership, was so distracted by his running battle with Paul Newlove that his influence was dissipated.

It is taking nothing away from a valiant St Helens to say that their 12 men could not have held a Wigan team playing up to its usual standards.

They had lost Goulding when he was guilty of a nasty head-high tackle on Neil Cowie - a foul that triggered an equally nasty brawl.

In time-honoured fashion, he spent most of the rest of the match in the changing-rooms, too nervous and full of self-reproach to watch. That was a shame, because Goulding, still locked in a wage dispute with the club, would have seen that they can sometimes manage without him.

If Goulding's sending-off should have ruined their chances, then Wigan also felt hard done to by having a try disallowed when Farrell, already losing his discipline, tangled with Newlove.

Edwards called it the turning point of the match, but that is something of an alibi. Wigan lost because they were not as well prepared for the task as Saints, who, significantly, risked the wrath of several players by refusing to let them take a working holiday this winter. There is a moral in that somewhere.

St Helens: Prescott; Arnold, Hunte, Newlove, Sullivan; Martyn, Goulding; Perelini, Cunningham, O'Neill, Joynt, McVey, Hammond. Substitutes used: Matautia, Morley, Pickavance.

Wigan: Radlinski; Ellison, A.Johnson, Tuigamala, Robinson; Paul,Edwards; O'Connor, Hall, Cowie, Haughton, Cassidy, Farrell. Substitutes used: Holgate, Long.

Referee: R Smith (Castleford).