Rugby League: Wigan display their wares

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The Independent Online
Wigan. . .30

Halifax. .14

WIGAN took a huge step towards retaining the First Division championship yesterday and gave a fair idea of the scale of the task facing Halifax when the two meet again in the quarter-finals of the Challenge Cup next Sunday.

Halifax played extremely well in patches and are always harder to beat on their own ground, but Wigan displayed the sustained quality that makes them clear favourites to win both competitions.

That quality was first evident in the break when Dean Bell - drafted into the pack in the absence of three regulars - set up Shaun Edwards's opening try.

Halifax came back strongly and Paul Bishop's kick bounced off a Wigan player to give them continued possession in Wigan's 25. Karl Harrison then did remarkably well to stand up to fierce tackling and put Mark Bailey over for a try.

Halifax would have been level if Bishop had not missed grotesquely with a goal-kick from right in front and should have taken the lead when the former Wigan wing, Mark Preston, latched on to Martin Dermott's loose pass only to kick dead.

Halifax showed resolute defence with try-saving tackles by David Cooper on Edwards, by Preston on Joe Lydon and by Cooper and Bishop on Phil Clarke.

There was nothing Cooper could do about Wigan's second try before half-time when Clarke's pass sent Offiah running at him.

Excellent handling by Barrie- John Mather put Offiah in for his second and then Andrew Farrar sidestepped through for a fine individual effort. Farrar is finally establishing himself in the Wigan fans' affections and it was not until he was sent to the sin-bin for fighting with Graeme Hallas that Halifax staged their comeback, Greg Austin's lofted pass releasing John Bentley and Bishop then burrowing his way over from dummy-half.

Restored to full strength, Wigan scored their fifth - converted like all the others by Frano Botica - when Clarke and Dermott made the opening for Edwards.

There was time for Offiah to be denied a spectacular third by a mystifying knock-on decision. But by that time word was out that St Helens were hopelessly adrift at Hull and Wigan were back where they look destined to finish the season - on top of the league.

Wigan: Hampson; Robinson, Lydon, Farrar (Bell, 74), Offiah; Botica, Edwards; Cowie, Dermott, Platt (Cassidy, 58), Panapa, Clarke, Bell (Mather, 30).

Halifax: Cooper; Bentley, Hallas, Austin, Preston; Bailey, Bishop; Harrison, Southernwood (Perrett, 70), Stuart, Lord (McLean, 58), Perrett (Fieldhouse, 48), Divorty.

Referee: D Campbell (Widnes).