Rugby League: Wigan are back to their best

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The Independent Online
London Broncos 8 Wigan 38

IT IS supposed to be impossible to turn back the clock, but Wigan did just that with a Silk Cut Challenge Cup semi-final performance as irresistible as anything they produced during John Monie's first reign as their coach.

Although Monie enjoyed the luxury of being able to criticise a few specifics, this was vintage Wigan; it would have taken a side with a lot more ideas than London to prevent them returning to Wembley after a two-year absence.

Although they got off to a wonderful start when Andy Farrell's pass sent Jason Robinson in at the corner after less than two minutes, Wigan's superiority was established by the unyielding way they dealt with the threat of the Broncos' big forwards.

London counted on Mark Carroll and Grant Young to make the breakthrough for them. Neither could be faulted for persistence, but they never looked like punching a hole in the magnificent Wigan defence.

The trouble then was that London had little in the way of an alternative strategy, although Peter Gill's long pass did create a try for Nick Mardon on one of the few occasions they moved the ball wide.

That was a mere blip on the graph of Wigan's unstoppable progress. They had a touch of luck when the excellent Tony Smith seemed to drop the ball and they were allowed to play on, for Farrell and the revitalised Henry Paul to lay on a try for Mark Bell.

A 10-point gap left London still vaguely in touch at half-time, but a moment of indiscipline by the hard-working Carroll was identified by his coach, Tony Currie, as a turning point.

Carroll spoke out of turn to concede a penalty while the Broncos were in possession and, with an air of inevitability, Wigan immediately cashed in, with Smith's run setting up Kris Radlinski.

It was all going badly wrong for London, despite the rousing words of their chairman, Richard Branson, before the match.

First their hooker, Robbie Beazley, went off injured and then Young was sent to the sin-bin for trampling on Bell. Again, no one who has watched Monie's sides was the least bit surprised to see them capitalise quickly on their one-man advantage.

Farrell might have missed the penalty - his one failure from eight attempts - but Smith and Paul soon provided Radlinski with his second try.

"They were on fire," said Currie and it is hard to imagine any British side not being severely singed by Wigan in the old mood they had now recaptured.

Within five minutes, Radlinski had been stopped a couple of feet short of his hat-trick, but the ball was moved rapidly to the left for Smith to give Danny Moore the scoring pass.

Moore got a second, courtesy of Robbie McCormack and Paul, but Monie was characteristically critical of some of the exhibition stuff Wigan began to play late on.

It was an indulgence they could well afford, even though Tulsen Tollett, struggling with the pace of the game on his return to rugby league, laid on a try for Butch Fatnowna.

Currie said it for the game as a whole: "I can't see Sheffield living with them at Wembley." On this form, nobody in Britain could.

Wigan: Radlinski; Bell, Connolly, Moore, Robinson; Paul, Smith; Mestrov, McCormack, Holgate, Betts, Haughton, Farrell. Substitutes used: Gilmour, Cawie, Cassidy, O'Connor.

London: Mardon; Fatnowna, Temu, Ryan, Offiah; Tollett, Chapman; Young, Beazley, Carroll, Retchless, Gill, Matterson. Substitutes used: Dunford, Higgins.

Referee: R Smith (Castleford).

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