Rugby League: Wigan make heavy weather of League opener

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The Independent Online
Wigan 18 Castleford 4

WIGAN, runaway favourites for everything this season, duly began their Super League campaign with a win, but there was little in this display that would make the rest of the field quake.

After the complete assurance of their Challenge Cup semi-final victory over London, Wigan were a tangle of nerves for much of the first half at a rain-sodden Central Park last night.

They committed uncharacteristic handling errors, their defence was unconvincing and they could have been punished by more than the one try that Castleford scored after only seven minutes.

It was a try fashioned by two former Wigan players, with a surprising helping hand from one of their current stars, Jason Robinson spilling a high kick from Mike Ford to allow Barrie-Jon Mather to touch down.

Castleford's try might have been something of a fluke, but they were playing very well, tackling tigerishly and moving the ball in enterprising style. They would have been further in front if Jason Critchley had not knocked on from Adrian Vowles' pass with the line open.

Instead, Wigan took an undeserved lead nine minutes before half-time, with the failure to hold on to a high kick again responsible.

Jason Flowers was the culprit this time, getting too far underneath a towering effort from Andy Farrell and only succeeding in serving it up for Henry Paul, Farrell adding the goal.

Farrell also had two penalty opportunities early in the second half, but missed one and opted to run the other. Wigan's pressure was now starting to build, although it took some ill luck to cause Castleford to crack, Nathan Sykes' attempt to charge down Farrell's kick producing six more tackles. Ultimately, the strain was too much and a pass hoisted out of the tackle by Paul found Tony Smith able to sneak in.

Farrell landed his second goal and Castleford's attempts to get back on terms after that were bedevilled by the difficulty of holding on to the ball in steadily worsening conditions.

After a serious of narrow escapes, they succumbed to Wigan again in the last minute. A bizarre try it was, as well, Neil Cowie skewing the ball into the middle of the field like a corner kick and Smith picking it up from his toes for his second try and Farrell's third goal.

Apart from the unevenness of the performance, Wigan's major concern was for their second row forward, Simon Haughton, who was taken to hospital to have his shoulder examined.

Wigan: Radlinski, Gilmour, Connolly, Moore, Robinson, Paul, T Smith), Cowie, McCormack, Mestrov, Betts, Haughton, Farrell. Substitutes used: P Johnson, Holgate, Cassidy, O'Connor.

Castleford: Flowers, Gay, Mather, Critchley, Ellison, Davis, Ford, McKell, Russell, Sykes, Schick, Pallec, Vowles. Substitutes used: M. Smith, Harland, Orr, Maloney.

Referee: S Cummings (Widnes).