Rugby League: Wembley works on Wigan: Fortunes reversed as Castleford crumble in cup semi-final while scrum-half gives Oldham a fillip

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The Independent Online
Castleford. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .6

Wigan. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .20

WEMBLEY, the universal palliative, has worked its healing magic on Wigan again. With a performance that mocked their unaccustomed status as underdogs, they swept aside all this season's ills and Castleford, their Silk Cut Challenge Cup semi-final opponents, who had been responsible for many of them.

Although it does not show in the scoreline, this was as one-sided a match as Castleford's victories in the league and the Regal Trophy final. Wigan, with Kelvin Skerrett leading a pack who once more looked a force to be feared, took a grip from the start and never relaxed it.

It was a transformation for which there are a number of explanations. First and foremost, there is the fact that this was the cup, a competition Wigan have made their own and which they approach with fierce pride. 'There's a fear factor,' Andy Platt said. 'None of us wants to get to Wembley day and not be going.'

That common sense of purpose bound together a club who have been looking frayed at the edges, with even those left out of Saturday's team sharing in the overwhelming feeling of relief. And nobody was more relieved than the Wigan coach, John Dorahy, for whom the knives would undoubtedly have been sharpened if Wigan had lost.

Much as he again infuriated those who like to know about these things by misleading the outside world over team selection, he had the last laugh. The inclusion of the young full-back, Paul Atcheson, ahead of a proven match-winner like Joe Lydon, looked risky, but Atcheson came through faultlessly.

The presence, after they had been ruled out earlier in the week, of three of the club's most experienced internationals - Platt, Dean Bell and Martin Dermott - also contributed to the solidity and assurance of the team effort.

There was an intriguing element of player power in the selection of Platt, who had been struggling for fitness and form. Soundings among other senior professionals showed that they wanted him in the starting line-up and he was promoted accordingly.

Frano Botica, who has often looked mis-cast at stand-off this season, had one of his most effective games, scoring one excellent try, providing the final pass for another and kicking four goals from four attempts. Everything, in fact, came right when it mattered most.

Castleford: Steadman; Ellis, Blackmore, Anderson, Middleton; Kemp, Ford; Crooks, Russell, Ketteridge (England, 26; Ketteridge, 56; England, 63), Morrison (Hay, 26), Smales, Nikau.

Wigan: Atcheson; Robinson, Mather, Connolly, Offiah; Botica, Edwards; Skerrett, Dermott (Cassidy, 57), Platt (Bell, 32), Cowie (Platt, 54), Cassidy (Panapa, 25), Farrell.

Referee: S Cummings (Widnes).