Rugby League: Wigan forced to rely on a strange pack: The championship will be decided tonight. Dave Hadfield reports

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The Independent Online
IT IS a reflection of John Monie's confidence in the adaptability of his players that he would not regard a Wigan team without a recognised prop as a risky proposition tonight.

Neil Cowie's ankle injury means that he is less likely than Kelvin Skerrett to be fit in time for the closest finish the championship has seen. With Andy Platt also missing, Wigan will field an unlikely pack against Castleford at Central Park - the match they must win to beat St Helens for the title on points difference.

'I don't want to play injured players,' Monie said. 'I'd rather have a pack full of back-rowers. I had a look at them lined up and they wouldn't be giving away too much size to anybody. I don't see it as a risk at all.'

The return of Phil Clarke helps, but much is likely to revolve around two players with confusingly similar names but little else in common.

Andrew Farrar, the vastly experienced 30-year-old Australian centre, may return after his ankle injury. Andrew Farrell, born in Wigan just 17 years ago, has made it difficult with his last two performances for Monie to leave him out of even a full- strength Wigan pack.

Farrell, as I recall warning readers of these pages 15 months ago, is the most outstanding British forward prospect since anyone you care to mention. His near-namesake would go further. 'I keep hearing what a great prospect he is,' Farrar said. 'I reckon he's a great player already.'

It is the ability to pluck young players like Farrell out of relative obscurity that ensures that nobody else in the game will ever waste much sympathy on Wigan's injury problems and manpower crises.

'It made me laugh when I read that John Monie was compaining about using more than 30 players in his first team this season,' the Castleford coach, Darryl Van de Velde, said. 'We haven't got that many players on contract. I wish we had.'

Van de Velde, who, like Monie, ends his English sojourn at the end of this season, could be without his captain and prop forward, Lee Crooks, who has a knee injury.

Castleford have a good record against Wigan in recent years, including a 26-17 victory at Wheldon Road earlier this month, and it would put a satisfying gloss on an otherwise disappointing season if they could complete a double tonight.

Van de Velde promises that there will be no meek handover. 'We will give it our best,' he said. 'It's not for rugby league or for St Helens. It's for ourselves.'

The next task for Castleford is the appointment of their new coach. An announcement is promised soon and Steve Simms of Leigh, Bill Gardner, the reserve coach at Brisbane Broncos, and Van de Velde's assistant, John Joyner, are regarded as the front- runners. Tony Gordon, recently arrived at London Crusaders, could also emerge as a contender.