Rugby League: Wigan make it six on the trot

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The Independent Online
Bradford Northern. . .6

Wigan . . . . . . . .15

(at Elland Road, Leeds)

WIGAN reached Wembley for the sixth successive season with one of the less assured performances of their era of domination in the Silk Cut Challenge Cup.

A dour, scoreless first half, followed by one of belated excitement as Bradford refused to lie down under the cumulative weight of Wigan's superiority finally saw the holders qualify to meet Widnes on 1 May.

It was not until three minutes from full-time, however, when Andrew Farrar took Steve Hampson's pass to score the clinching try, that Wigan could be sure that they had made it yet again.

In the early stages, in fact, Wigan were fortunate not to fall behind as their mistakes gave Bradford a wealth of possession that they could not turn into points. Wigan were also badly affected by the loss of their inspirational captain, Dean Bell, who was carried off on a stretcher with concussion after only 14 minutes.

Despite that and the considerable surprise of Frano Botica missing two kickable penalties, there were signs by half-time of Wigan taking control as Jason Robinson twice went close to breaking the deadlock with a try.

They did not have long to wait after the break for their pressure to tell. Shaun Edwards, Andy Platt and Sam Panapa kept the ball moving on the last tackle of a Wigan set of six and Botica supplied the final pass for the man of the match, Hampson, to get outside the cover and score in the corner.

Botica, restored to normal efficiency by the half-time break, kicked the goal from the touch-line and was able to add a second within three minutes when Karl Fairbank lashed out at the play-the-ball near his own line. Wigan were so firmly in control that it was a surprise that their next score came from Edwards's drop goal rather than the try they were constantly threatening.

At 9-0 they seemed to have yet another visit to north London booked and confirmed. It says much for the renewed spirit of a Bradford side beaten 71-10 by Wigan at this stage last season that they came back to set up a finish that rather flattered the overall quality of the match.

David Heron's pass found Roger Simpson, who seemed to have few options but beat Kelvin Skerrett and Hampson to score a try which David Hobbs converted to put Northern within one touch-down of a shock victory.

Wigan know the signposts to Wembley in the dark, however, and they fashioned a try to put the semi-final beyond doubt out of the most unpromising materials.

Denis Betts dropped the ball as they attacked in Bradford's 25, but with the Bradford hooker, Brian Noble, off the field, Wigan engineered a rugby league rarity - a six-man shove to win the ball against the feed. Edwards and Botica moved it swiftly to the left, Hampson came into the line with perfect timing and the Australian centre Farrar knew that he was going to score the try from the moment he took Hampson's pass.

Bradford Northern: D Watson; R Simpson, T Marchant (M Taylor, 54 min), D Shelford, T Anderson; N Summers, D Fox; D Hobbs (capt), B Noble (P Medley, 73 min), J Hamer, R Powell, K Fairbank, P Medley (D Heron, 25 min). Coach: P Fox.

Wigan: S Hampson; J Robinson, J Lydon, A Farrar, M Offiah; F Botica, S Edwards; K Skerrett, M Dermott, A Platt, D Betts, P Clarke, D Bell (capt, S Panapa, 14 min). Sub not used: N Cowie. Coach: J Monie.

Referee: J Holdsworth (Kippax).

Scorers: Hampson/Botica (try/goal, 46 min, 0-6); Botica (pen, 49 min, 0-8); Edwards (drop goal, 58 min, 0-9); Simpson/Hobbs (try/goal, 61 min, 6-9); Farrar/Botica (try/goal, 77 min, 6-15).

(Photograph omitted)