Rugby League: Wigan get the job done: Bradford fail in Challenge Cup semi-final repeat as St Helens keep up the championship pressure

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The Independent Online
Bradford Northern. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .6

Wigan. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 15

WHEN you win everything, there seems to be some sort of moral obligation that you do so in style. Wigan's Silk Cut Challenge Cup semi-final against Bradford on Saturday showed that this is not always possible, although after a first half which seemed to vindicate BBC 1's decision to show some canoe race on the Thames instead, they once more got the job done.

'We played as well as Bradford allowed us to,' said Steve Hampson, who, after some early errors that typified Wigan's shaky start, settled down to become a major influence through his incursions into the back line.

Andy Platt, the new Great Britain captain, rated it the most difficult of the semi-finals in which he has been involved. 'They wouldn't lie down. They showed a lot of character and can be very proud of themselves,' he said.

With a little more firepower Bradford could have been celebrating something more substantial than magnanimous tributes. They had a wealth of possession in the first 20 minutes and had their chances again after they had narrowed Wigan's lead to 9-6.

Any similarity to the side that fell apart to lose 71-10 to Wigan in last year's semi-final was purely incidental, although it has to be said that Wigan fell some way short of the spectacular standards of last year. Widnes, watching and weighing up their chances for the final at Wembley on 1 May, would have been respectful but not overawed.

Well though his replacement, Sam Panapa, played, Wigan missed the drive and intensity of their captain, Dean Bell. He took a dreadful knock to the head in the 11th minute as he tackled Karl Fairbank and players from both sides had to turn him on to his side to prevent him from swallowing his tongue.

His departure did not help Wigan's rhythm and neither side was helped in the first half by Elland Road's crumbling surface, which often affected the players' footing. Perhaps they should make a complaint about the damaging effects of playing too much football on it.

The Wigan coach, John Monie, admitted that he was worried about the situation at half-time, although Platt's feeling that a breakthrough was 'just a matter of time' proved the more accurate assessment.

Wigan seemed assured of their sixth successive Wembley appearance after a flurry of points - an avalanche by the standards of the game up to that point - between the 46th and 58th minutes. Hampson's try was the product of his good timing after some quick handling had got the ball wide on the last tackle.

Frano Botica's goal from the touchline, followed by an easy penalty after Fairbank's ill-disciplined swing at Shaun Edwards, and an Edwards drop-goal set up what could have been the platform for a clear-cut victory.

That was where Bradford earned their plaudits. Roger Simpson's darting run found a hole in the Wigan defence and David Hobbs's goal put them within one try of the lead.

Three minutes from the end a try for collectors of curiosities - from a scrum won against the feed by a pre- planned six-man shove - put an end to that possibility. Hampson came into the line with perfect timing again and as soon as he took the ball, Andrew Farrar knew that he was going to fulfil his ambition to play at Wembley, which brought him from Australia this season.

Bradford Northern: Watson; Simpson, Marchant (Taylor, 54), Shelford, Anderson; Summers, Fox; Hobbs, Noble (Medley, 73), Hamer, Powell, Fairbank, Medley (Heron, 25).

Wigan: Hampson; Robinson, Lydon, Farrar, Offiah; Botica, Edwards; Skerrett, Dermott, Platt, Betts, Clarke, Bell (Panapa, 14).

Referee: J Holdsworth (Kippax).