Rugby League: Wigan call off world party

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WIGAN HAVE declared the money-spinning prospect of a World Club Championship showdown with the Brisbane Broncos a non-starter.

The two clubs had agreed in principle to play in February at Bolton, but could not agree on a date. Wigan wanted to play on the first weekend of the month, but Brisbane proposed 20 February, which the English champions rejected because it falls between two rounds of the Challenge Cup.

Now the international federation, meeting in Sydney, has earmarked the first weekend of February for the World Nines in Johannesburg, prompting Wigan to scrap any hope of the high-profile match at Bolton taking place.

"As far as Wigan are concerned, it is a dead duck," said the club's chairman, Peter Norbury, who also expressed disappointment at the federation organising the Nines, which will inevitably involve several of their players, without consulting Wigan.

Sceptics will suspect that the fear of losing to Brisbane and starting their season on a downbeat note has played a part in the club's uncharacteristic lack of enterprise. It is only four years since Wigan, without a coach and after an exhausting 45-game domestic season, went to Brisbane and won the world title.

One of Wigan's first-team players could soon be on the move, but Stephen Holgate will only be allowed to go to Hull if they pay the money Wigan claim they are still owed for the transfer of Craig Murdock.

Holgate was a first-choice prop in the team that lost the Challenge Cup final to Sheffield last May, but the form of Neil Cowie and Terry O'Connor, the signing of Brett Goldspink, and the development of Neil Baynes gives Wigan an abundance of talent in that position. The club have denied rumours that they now plan to bring Robbie McCormack back from Australia.