Rugby League: Wigan look vulnerable to Leeds

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The Independent Online
WITH ALL due respect to a tie today between last year's surprise Wembley victors and the side they beat in the semi-finals, the fourth round of the Silk Cut Challenge Cup is dominated by tomorrow's game between the two strongest clubs in the game.

The was a groan that echoed from the Leeds Hilton to Lanzarote - where Leeds were on a pre-season training camp - when they came out of the bag with Wigan.

As events have panned out since, however, it could be Wigan who have the more to groan about. They won the one that mattered last year, beating Leeds in the Grand Final, but the loss of Tony Smith with a broken ankle for this tie has exposed some gaps in their squad.

Mark Reber, who has been a bit-part player from the bench for North Sydney for the last few seasons, only flew into Britain on Tuesday. Tomorrow, he will play most of the match at scrum-half, a position he has not filled regularly since his rugby union days.

John Monie's only alternative is to use Jason Robinson in a role he has only occupied on an occasional basis. Neither is an ideal solution and a contest between two closely matched sides could be tilted Leeds' way as a result.

On top of that, there are a few cracks behind the scenes at Central Park - a worrying state of affairs at this stage of the season. Leeds will smell their chance.

They also had good news yesterday when Richie Blackmore and Daryl Powell were both passed fit. That left their coach, Graham Murray, with only the problem of who plays at hooker. He has resolved that by starting with last year's incumbent, Terry Newton, with the new signing, Lee Jackson, on the bench.

Barrie McDermott, who began only five games last season, gets the vote at prop and will be in direct opposition to his great mate, Terry O'Connor, in what could be, despite their friendship, an explosive collision.

Leeds expect a crowd of over 20,000 for a tie which is not all-ticket and has been protected from the weather by having the under-soil heating turned on since Wednesday.

The meeting today between Sheffield Eagles and Salford would be the highlight of most Cup draws. Salford are still simmering over the way the Eagles came back in last year's semi, but both sides have changed a lot since that day.

Of the two, Salford's surgery has been the more drastic. After a season which never recovered from that defeat they have eight new players making their debuts today.

It is perhaps expecting too much for their new line-up to gel immediately against opponents who will fight to keep one hand on the trophy they won against all expectations last May.

The two surviving amateur sides face their moments of truth today, with Featherstone Lions taking on Halifax and Leigh Miners-Rangers, who won at Bramley in the last round, meeting Hull KR.

There will be a handshake of Stanley-Livingstone proportions at The Stoop, where the opposing captains, London's Shaun Edwards and Doncaster's Garry Schofield, are two of the British game's true genuine giants.

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