Rugby League: Wigan aim to gloss over the dark times: Central Park is beset by problems

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The Independent Online
THE concept of a crisis is a relative one. At Wigan, it means reaching two finals and lying third in the league.

'Any club would change places with us,' the Wigan chairman, Jack Robinson, said, but, as he knows all too well, that glosses over a deterioration in the way things are done both on and off the field that has ceased to be worrying and is becoming alarming.

In the last nine days, Wigan have lost two vital league matches - which does not sound too bad until you consider that they have fans who have never witnessed such events - and have come their closest yet to acknowledging that matters behind the scenes are a mess.

John Dorahy, who would be most Wigan fans' choice for scapegoat, has come out and admitted that there is factional infighting at the level of the board and of the players.

Both he and Robinson now concede that some players have not been giving their best. Dorahy also makes the startling claim that one director has placed a bet on Wigan losing one particular match.

Rugby league is not a game that you can play to any standard with this sort of distraction; perhaps the surprise is that, amid the recent dross, there has been the occasional glimpse of the old Wigan.

Even the circumstances of the good performances can be turned in such a way as to undermine Dorahy. The popular explanation for the dominant display against Castleford in the semi-final of the Silk Cut Challenge Cup was that the senior players took over tactics and team selection.

Dorahy's explanation is subtly different. He says it was a case of everyone getting behind him, because of the overriding importance of the game to the club. Cynics say that the promise of the first really big bonus of the season was another factor.

Since then, anyone with eyes has been able to see that the magic ingredient has been missing. Even when Wigan have been winning matches, it has been with a stilted style of play that rarely, for instance, results in Martin Offiah or Jason Robinson getting a running chance on the wings.

The danger of the championship, which they have held for the last four years, slipping away this weekend could be enough to focus minds again. It is still easy to imagine Wigan switching into 'Castleford mode' for the two matches against Bradford later this month.

Losing the title would be a severe trauma - and it would be followed by others. It looks increasingly certain that Wigan will lose two more key players - Frano Botica and Denis Betts - to the Auckland Warriors in New Zealand.

The same antipodean sources which report those defections as fact also insist that someone from Wigan has been in touch with the former Hull and now St George coach, Brian Smith, about his availability.

It is rumour, of course, and Wigan has long been the rumour capital of rugby league. The difference now is that everyone believes all the most far-fetched ones; all the tales of players coming to blows, of shouting matches at training and, most stunning of all, of Wigan finally being on the slide.