Rugby League: Wigan gain sweet revenge

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The Independent Online
Sheffield Eagles 6 Wigan 36

THE EAGLES came down to earth with a bump as they returned to the Don Valley Stadium with the Challenge Cup, the previous week's Wembley victims doing to them what they were expected to do in the final.

This rapid return fixture was always a tricky one for Sheffield - and they lost it by conceding three tries to an Andy Farrell- inspired Wigan in the first 15 minutes. They competed far better after that, but there was never the prospect of them doubling their modest tally of Super League points.

"It wasn't so much a matter of us starting slowly as Wigan starting at 320 miles per hour," said the Sheffield coach, John Kear, plucking a figure out of the balmy air.

"Wigan played outstandingly well today, just as we did at Wembley. The fact is that they were better than us."

Farrell, whose six goals from as many attempts took him beyond 500 points for his career and capped a wonderful personal contribution, denied that revenge had been the motivation.

"Everyone was up for it. It didn't matter who it was; we're just glad we had a good performance," said the Wigan captain, whose only blemish came when he was placed on report for a suspected high tackle.

"It was still very tough out there, but we got our fast men away, which is what we should have done at Wembley."

However much players and coaches tried to isolate the match, the shadow of last week's events hung over it. Wigan's rehabilitation was impressively professional; the experience might even make them a tougher proposition as the Super League season wears on.

But Sheffield were also under scrutiny. The way they regrouped after being blitzed in the first 20-odd minutes showed that they will not be content to rest on their Cup laurels. They need to start gaining some points if they are to make a bid for the top five, but Kear remains in buoyant mood and we all know by now not to dismiss his natural optimism as groundless.

The reaction of the Sheffield public was also an issue. The jury remains out, still sweating over the question of whether the Eagles' Cup triumph will win them over.

On a perfect afternoon, on a Saturday - when the club believes it can build on the city's football habit - and with no television coverage, they attracted around 8,000.

That included a healthy contingent travelling from Wigan and plenty of under-16s, who were allowed in free, so when Kear said that he was delighted with the reception he was surely referring to the enthusiasm rather than the bare numbers.

Sheffield Eagles: Sovatabua; Pinkney, Taewa, Senior, Crowther; Watson, Aston; Broadbent, Lawless, Laughton, Carr, Shaw, Doyle. Substitutes used: Turner, Molloy, Wood, Jackson.

Wigan: Radlinski; Bell, Connolly, Moore, Robinson; Paul, Smith; Mestrov, McCormack, Cowie, Betts, Haughton, Farrell. Substitutes used: Johnson, Holgate, Cassidy, Gilmour.

Referee: S.Presley (Castleford).