Rugby League Preview: Inga primed for central role

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WIGAN go to Warrington today for the most important championship fixture of the season so far, with the large shadow of Va'aiga Tuigamala lying across the rest of the campaign.

Tuigamala will arrive within the coming week and the implications of that should give more than one Wigan player food for thought. The former All Black will begin his league career in the reserves, but Wigan are unlikely to give him as long to learn the game as Salford, for instance, have given Richard Webster in their second string.

So Tuigamala will soon be putting pressure on somebody's first-team place. Given the Wigan coach John Dorahy's fancy for the new man as a centre, the man under immediate threat is Barrie-Jon Mather, switched to the backs recently after cutting his teeth as a second row. It is significant, though, that Wigan have moved quickly to extend and improve Mather's contract, reassuring him that his future in the firstteam squad is as secure as anybody's. It would not be a surprise if they tried to do the same for Sam Panapa, whose recent form demands a regular place.

The other solution would be to play Tuigamala in his All Black position of wing, but that would mean displacing either Jason Robinson or Martin Offiah. The former option is unthinkable - Robinson is a prime asset for the next 10 years - but a surprising number of people in and around the club would be willing to countenance the latter.

Although Dorahy has discounted gossip that Wigan are keen to unload Offiah and his massive contract, Offiah has had many injuries in the two years since he joined Wigan, making him a little less of a blue-chip proposition than he was at Widnes.

He has also failed to strike up a rapport with the crowd, a section of which is actively hostile towards him. It is not a matter of colour - black players from Boston, through Hanley and Gill to Robinson, have been acclaimed at Central Park. But there is a diffidence in the relationship between the terraces and Offiah, marked by the sluggish sales of his biography in the town this Christmas, that makes him seem less than permanently settled.

The question is; where could he go? Leeds would seem the only possibility, but their cries of poverty carry more conviction these days. It is doubtful whether his board would let Doug Laughton spend big again on another player who might have 'right man, wrong time' on his cv

So the prospect is of Tuigamala and Offiah in the same threequarter line. It is Dorahy's conviction that Inga the Wiganer has surgeon's hands to complement his bouncer's frame and that, in the centre, he will create as many chances for others as he creates havoc on his own account.

TODAY'S FIXTURES: Stones Bitter Championship (3.0 unless stated) Halifax v Leeds; Salford v Leigh; Sheffield v Hull KR (3.15); St Helens v Widnes; Wakefield v Featherstone (12.0); Warrington v Wigan. Second Division Bramley v Batley (3.30); Carlisle v Whitehaven (2.0); Dewsbury v Hunslet (3.30); Rochdale v London Crusaders; Ryedale York v Keighley (3.15); Workington v Barrow. Postponed: Highfield v Swinton.

(Photograph omitted)