Rugby League: Slow start foils Featherstone: Wigan victorious

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Featherstone Rovers. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .24

Wigan. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .36

NO TEAM can expect to give Wigan a half-hour start at the beginning of a new season and win. Featherstone went close to achieving that unlikely feat yesterday, but still found they had given too much ground to the reigning champions.

The damage was done by five tries conceded before Rovers had settled down to the rudiments of defensive organisation. Wigan exploited some paper-thin defence to score almost at will during an embarrassingly one-sided opening period.

Carl Gibson was completely deceived by Shaun Edwards' kick for Frano Botica to score the first, Kelvin Skerrett barged through for the second, and the defence stood off Edwards to allow him to create the third for Paul Atcheson.

Botica, who also kicked three early goals, grabbed Andy Farrell's inspired one- handed pass for another. A flowing move from their own try-line twice involving Martin Offiah saw Jason Robinson crown some spectacular attacking rugby.

A massive score seemed on the cards, but Featherstone deserve some credit for stemming a tide that seemed likely to sweep them away. Two tries on either side of half- time gave them a glimmer of hope and suggested that they will not be such an easy proposition when their newcomers have settled in.

One of their four debutantes, Andy Currier, making his first appearance for Featherstone after a year out of

action with a knee injury, lunged over from acting half- back before the break.

Two minutes after the restart, Ikram Butt took a pass from Brendon Tuuta and held off the Wigan cover on a 40-yard run to the try-line.

Two conversions from Martin Pearson had Featherstone far closer on the scoreboard than had seemed possible, and Wigan were grateful for a Botica penalty that edged them a little further ahead.

Currier came back with his second try, supporting a break by Pearson, who also added the goal to reduce the gap to 10 points.

A comeback was put beyond Rovers' reach when Edwards' long pass picked out Denis Betts for another Wigan try, although Matt Calland went over again for Featherstone, after good work by Currier and Pearson, with eight minutes to go.

Botica's fifth goal, a penalty after Leo Casey was sin- binned for holding down Betts, completed Wigan's scoring in injury time, but it had been a curiously uneven performance by the champions.

If only Featherstone had started on time, the makings of another of Wigan's occasional embarrassments at Post Office Road could have been in place.

Featherstone Rovers: Gibson; Banquet, Currier, Calland, Butt; Pearson, Aston; Molloy (Casey, 55), Southernwood (Roebuck, 75), Casey (G S Price, 26; Molloy, 66), Divet, G H Price, Puuta.

Wigan: Atcheson; Robinson, Tuigamala, Connolly, Offiah; Botica, Edwards; Skerrett, Hall (Radlinski, 69), Cowie (McDermott, 29), Betts, Cassidy, Farrell. Referee: D Campbell (Widnes).