Rugby League: Tuigamala Wembley-bound

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The Independent Online
WIGAN have put their faith in Va'aiga Tuigamala whose Silk Cut Challenge Cup final appearance this Saturday, in only his 10th game of rugby league, will make him one of least experienced players to play at Wembley, writes Dave Hadfield.

Players have stepped into the cup final after fewer senior games but none, it is thought, after less matches of any description in the code.

Tuigamala has started just eight matches, plus one as substitute, since his switch from the All Blacks at the turn of the year. However, he has been preferred to Jason Robinson, Wigan's Great Britain international right wing, for the last three games, and he keeps his place despite Robinson's hat-trick in the A team on Monday night.

John Dorahy does not see Tuigamala's inclusion as a risk. 'He is in because of his size, strength and ability to take the ball forward in an uncompromising way,' Wigan's coach said. 'He also has vision which Jason lacks. Jason hasn't been in the best of form, although there have been signs in the A team that he is getting back to the way we know he can play. Inga has been in the cauldron of all those big rugby union occasions and Wembley won't faze him at all.'

Tuigamala is slightly bemused by the recent change of fortune. 'I never expected to be playing at Wembley this year - maybe in two seasons, but not this time,' he said.

Joining Robinson in the inevitable ranks of the disappointed are Paul Atcheson, whose injury recently has lost him his place at full- back to Gary Connolly, Joe Lydon, Neil Cowie and Martin Hall.

Sam Panapa and Mick Cassidy will also feel slightly let down to be only substitutes after playing consistently all season. But, as Dorahy said after his coded message hoping that his directors' involvement would be 'minimal but positive', 23 into 13 does not go.

Leeds are expected to name their side today, after Neil Harmon's broken thumb and various other maladies are checked. The case against them for fielding a weakened side against Bradford on Saturday is now likely to be heard after the cup final, because the League's board has been unable to raise a quorum.

Wigan: G Connolly; V Tuigamala, D Bell (capt), B-J Mather, M Offiah; F Botica, S Edwards; K Skerrett, M Dermott, A Platt, D Betts, A Farrell, P Clarke. Substitutes: S Panapa, M Cassidy.