Rugby League: Wigan must be wary of Broncos' enthusiasm and flair: Tonight's World Club Challenge at Central Park is likely to be fast and open

Click to follow
The Independent Online
EVEN with the unexpected boost of having Phil Clarke fit, Wigan face a searching examination of their right to call themselves the world's best rugby league club side at Central Park tonight.

The Brisbane Broncos start with two advantages over Manly, Canberra and Penrith - the Australian teams which have tried and failed to break the British monopoly of the World Club Challenge since its inception in 1987.

They have a nucleus of players used to blending together for club, state and country with a level of mutual understanding that goes far beyond that expected from even the best sides.

Equally important, they want this fixture and their approach will be positive. They have even promised not to make any excuses if they lose, which will be a first for this event.

After the largely sterile fare at Wembley on Saturday, the Broncos should be a breath of fresh air. They have reached their present position by keeping the ball alive whenever possible, by taking risks, running the ball - and often running in tries - from their own 25.

Any suggestion that their forward strength was not up to the same standard as their back line has been answered by the acquisition of Glenn Lazarus and Trevor Gillmeister. They are, beyond any doubt, one of the most exciting and effective sides the code has produced.

But so are Wigan. Their coach, John Monie, may be a shade more wary in his tactics than Brisbane's Wayne Bennett, the man many believe will replace him, but who, for domestic reasons, is unlikely to do so. But Wigan, once they have established a platform, are every bit as keen to spin the ball and that unanimity of purpose promises rich entertainment.

Clarke's recovery from a 'dead' leg means that the Wigan pack is at full strength, with two tourist forwards, Ian Lucas and Neil Cowie, on the bench.

Behind them, Wigan need Shaun Edwards to put his qualms about the refereeing of Dennis Hale completely out of his mind and to concentrate on what is bound to be a demanding night's work, even if Allan Langer suffers a reaction from his chest injury and has to pull out at the last minute.

Two names in the backs emphasise, even in advance of any offer to the Olympic sprinter Ade Mafe, Wigan's ability to find talent worthy of their squad, wherever that talent may be hidden.

Joe Lydon's ankle injury at Wembley allows rugby league's only prominent Namibian, Andre Stoop, a run at full- back. Stoop has to compete against Lydon, Steve Hampson and soon, one suspects, the new signing from Widnes, Paul Atcheson, for the No 1 jersey. At 28, time is against him, but he looks as good as any of them when he runs the ball out of defence.

Ten years younger, and from closer to home, Jason Robinson has played so well since he forced his way into the Wigan first team that he has to be included somewhere. Robinson, grabbed from under Leeds' nose, is a glittering natural talent who will eventually thrive at half-back or loose forward, but is currently creating a stir on the right wing.

He will not be overawed by the crowd or the atmosphere tonight. More than 16,000 tickets have already been sold, and, although it is possible to pay at the turnstiles, past experience suggests it will be best to arrive early.

Wigan (probable): Stoop; Robinson, Bell, Farrar, Offiah; Botica, Edwards; Skerrett, Dermott, Platt, Betts, McGinty, Clarke. Substitutes: Lucas, Cowie, Crompton, Panapa.

Brisbane: O'Neill; Hancock, Renouf, Johns, Carne; Kevin Walters, Langer; Lazarus, Kerrod Walters, Gee, Gillmeister, Hohn, Matterson. Substitutes: Plath, Currie, Plowman, Ryan.

Referee: D Hale (NZ).

Halifax have signed Hull Kingston Rover's Great Britain tourist, Graham Hallas, who had refused to play for his former club this season. Halifax have paid pounds 70,000, plus Rob Hutchinson, who is valued at pounds 35,000. Hallas and the club's new Australian signing, Mike McLean, are both in line to make their debuts against Wakefield on Sunday.

Centres of attention, page 30