Rugby League: Monie still looking for half-back blend

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The Independent Online
(First Edition)

JOHN MONIE was not moved to invective of Graeme Souness proportions by Wigan's defeat against Warrington in their last match, but, by his normally restrained standards, he came uncomfortably close.

'I was disappointed in quite a few of the players who didn't come up as well as I expected,' he said. 'I felt that some of the players didn't give us 100 per cent. They thought they were going to win because they were wearing a Wigan shirt.'

Despite strong words to some individuals during the intervening 10 days, Monie has restricted his team changes for tomorrow's Silk Cut Challenge Cup preliminary round tie against Hull to reinstating Martin Offiah and Billy McGinty after injury, and switching Frano Botica and Shaun Edwards at half-back.

Offiah's absence with a shoulder injury has also allowed the London clinic which specialises in restoring Wigan players to health to work intensively on the hamstring that has inhibited his usual exuberance this season. 'We hope to get back the player who can use his speed to go on the outside,' Monie said.

The switch of Edwards and Botica reflects Monie's continuing search for the right blend at half-back, an area with which he has not been entirely happy since the sale of Andy Gregory to Leeds last summer.

Hull hope to have James Grant and Andy Dannatt fit for their latest instalment of The Road to Wigan Pier, having won at Central Park in the league but lost there in the semi-finals of the Regal Trophy. Both will have fitness tests today; Grant on a gashed leg and Dannatt on a persistent groin problem.

The Hull coach, Royce Simmons, will still be without three forwards - Ian Marlow, Dean Busby and Steve McNamara - but he has Mark Jones back from suspension. Jones will be on the bench, alongside the Frenchman, Danny Divet, who was signed on loan from Carcassonne last week.

'We found it hard to break through against Wigan last time, so two big men on the bench will not come amiss,' Simmons said.

Both coaches expect the start of the Challenge Cup trail to give Wigan a fillip. 'They should call it the Wigan Cup, they've won it so often,' Simmons said. 'When you've done that, it becomes something you would hate to give up. We will have to be at our very, very best to beat them.'

Neil Roebuck, Featherstone Rovers' new signing from Castleford, is beginning his career at Post Office Road with a six-match suspension after being sent off playing for his former club against his new one in an Alliance match.

Other suspensions include three matches for the former Great Britain winger, Des Drummond, on loan from Warrington to Bramley, and four matches for the Sheffield Eagles scrum-half, Mark Aston.

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