Rugby League: Offiah has say in the long run

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Wigan. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .50

Leigh . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .0

WIGAN'S reserves proved more than equal to the task of keeping them on course to retain the championship at Central Park last night.

A potentially awkward night for Wigan soon threw up a new problem. Already without seven regulars injured or on touch duty, they lost their only remaining first-choice forward when Kelvin Skerrett went off after only 13 minutes with a leg injury.

By that time, Wigan had the comfort of a six-point lead. A strong drive by Neil Cowie after four minutes had taken them within the shadow of the posts and a long pass from Martin Crompton and a quick one from Martin Offiah put Jason Robinson in.

Frano Botica landed two penalties to increase Wigan's lead and Leigh's merest approach to a try backfired on them in spectacular fashion.

Tim Street, the prop who began his turbulent career at Wigan, almost forced his way in at the corner when he latched on to a deflected kick. From the turnover of possession, Offiah went virtually from his own line to score one of the finest tries of his prolific career.

The wing beat three men down the touchline, cut inside to bounce away from David Ruane's challenge and outpaced the rest of the defence for an unforgettable score. Not bad for a man who is not considered fit enough to play for Great Britain.

Sides with less serious problems than Leigh - for whom the question next season is not how many internationals will be playing, but whether they have anywhere to play - would have been deflated by a try like that.

To their credit they held Wigan, who had to reorganise again after the loss of Crompton for 24 minutes, before conceding another try. It was Crompton's replacement, Paul Atcheson, who scored. But the try was made by Andrew Farrar, becoming more effective by the match in the Wigan centre, kicking and catching to beat brave Leigh's defence.

That really did signal the breaking point for Leigh. Within two minutes, Robinson split them again with a pass to Sam Panapa and Offiah was in support to score and give Botica his fifth goal. Then, after Jason Donohue had been sin-binned for tackling Offiah off the ball, good work by the returned Crompton and the impressive Mike Forshaw sent in Botica for another try and goal.

The power and determination of Cowie then took him over from a tap penalty, Martin Hall finished off an attack by Andrew Farrell and Robinson and Forshaw's dive on to Crompton's angled kick completed the try scoring, giving Botica his ninth goal.

Wigan: Hampson; Robinson, Lydon, Farrar, Offiah; Botica, Crompton (Atcheson, 29); Cowie, Hall, Skerrett (Farrell, 13), Panapa, Cassidy (Crompton, 60), Forshaw.

Leigh: D Ruane; Hanger, Martin, Clarke, Platt; Gunning (Rowley, 60), Donohue; Hansen, A Ruane (Dainty, 63), Street, Collier, Baldwin, Pendlebury.

Referee: D Atkin (Hull).