Rugby League Preview: Wigan at crossroads

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The Independent Online
WHEN Warrington lost to Bradford Northern three weeks ago, their coach, Brian Johnson, said that his side could only win the Championship if both the Bradford and Wigan team buses crashed.

While neither of the clubs are quite off the road yet, they have both been involved in too many scrapes to feel comfortable. Northern have lost at home to the bottom club, Leigh, while Wigan hit a brick wall in losing 18-4 at Hull in midweek. Instead of opening a gap at the top of the division that would mean the destination of the Championship rested on their two clashes next month, they have let other clubs into the race.

Wigan go to Sheffield Eagles knowing that just one more loss will give Warrington and Castleford, as well as Bradford, the chance to deprive them of the title they have held for four seasons. If that were not enough, Wigan must also play Warrington and Castleford in a run-in that looks increasingly fraught.

The reigning champions have played so poorly in bread- and-butter matches against Wakefield, Leigh and Hull that all three of their rivals now have real hope. If you ignore their superb display against Castleford in the Challenge Cup semi-final, it is a long time since they performed even acceptably.

They have become a team who raise their game only when there is a crisis or a big bonus on the table. There is unlikely to be a big incentive on offer at Sheffield, but if Wigan cannot convince themselves there is an impending crisis, then the Championship will drift away.

Bradford are not playing this weekend, but Warrington, who have the indispensable Jonathan Davies back for their home game with Salford, and Castleford, away to Halifax, have an incentive they can hardly have anticipated.

TODAY'S FIXTURES (3.0 unless stated) Stones Bitter Championship Castleford v Halifax (3.30); Oldham v Featherstone; Sheffield v Wigan (3.15); Wakefield v Hull (3.30); Warrington v Salford. Second Division Carlisle v Huddersfield; Dewsbury v Ryedale-York (3.30); Doncaster v Swinton; Highfield v Whitehaven; Keighley v Batley (3.15); London Crusaders v Bramley (3.30); Rochdale v Barrow; Workington v Hunslet.

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