Rugby League: Offiah's try puts Wigan in charge

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The Independent Online
Wigan . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .21

Castleford. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .12

ONLY a win on Sunday over an Oldham side with nothing left to play for stands between Wigan and a fifth successive championship.

Castleford, around whom so many of their highs and lows have revolved this season, gave them an almighty fright when they led 12-0 in the first half, but Wigan, inspired by a candidate for try of the season from Martin Offiah dragged themselves back from the brink again last night.

Castleford showed in the first 10 minutes that they had come to Central Park willing to do all the tackling that could be required of them. They only saw the ball tucked under the arm of approaching Wigan players, but they stuck to their task.

Indeed they went into the lead when Nikau slid through some hesitant tackling and Russell finished off a try which Lee Crooks improved.

Five minutes later Castleford again opened up Wigan and Dean Sampson's ball sent Ellis on a 50-yard run for his 36th try of the season.

Wigan got a huge lift, however, when Martin Dermott and Mick Cassidy sent Va'aiga Tuigamala hurtling over in the corner and Frano Botica kicked a touchline conversion that was as valuable psychologically as mathematically.

Just before half-time, Botica again reduced the deficit when Castleford held down Denis Betts in the tackle.

A sensational try from Offiah brought Wigan level in the first minute after the interval. Castleford were threatening but Gary Connolly fielded Steadman's kick and Offiah went 95 yards to make a nonsense of claims that he has lost his pace.

Castleford's habit of lying on in the tackle then gave Wigan the lead when Botica exacted instant retribution for Steadman's offence.

A quicksilver, scampering run when Castleford were expecting an attempt at a drop goal brought Shaun Edwards the converted try that gave Wigan a margin of comfort.

After Tuigamala forced his way close to the posts, Andy Farrell added the further insurance of a drop goal. Wigan are free now to turn their attention to the final hurdle, a succesful negotiation of which will render Warrington's and Bradford's efforts irrelevent.

Wigan: Connolly; Tuigamala, Bell (Lydon, 67), Panapa, Offiah; Botica, Edwards; Skerrett, Dermott, Platt (Cowie, 67), Betts, Cassidy, Farrell.

Castleford: Ellis; Nelson, T Smith, Hay, Middleton; Steadman, Ford; Crooks (Sykes, 55), Russell, Sampson (Crooks, 71), Ketteridge, Smales, Nikau.

Referee: D Campbell (Widnes).

Ellery Hanley only has a 50- 50 chance of playing in the Challenge Cup final against Wigan on 30 April after limping off before half-time with a hamstring injury in Leeds' 58- 16 win against Widnes at Headingley last night.

----------------------------------------------------------------- STONES BITTER CHAMPIONSHIP ----------------------------------------------------------------- TOP THREE P W D L F A Pts Wigan 29 22 0 7 730 397 44 Bradford 29 22 0 7 732 545 44 Warrington 29 22 0 7 592 412 44 -----------------------------------------------------------------