Rugby League: Wigan on Wembley way again

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The Independent Online
Castleford. . .6

Wigan. . . . .20

WIGAN had compelling reasons to play the opening stages of their rugby league Silk Cut Challenge Cup semi-final as though their season hinged upon them. They are booked for a seventh successive Wembley final because the ferocity with which they went about the job was too much for a side that had racked up 79 points against them in their two previous meetings.

Wigan were a team transformed, not just from the one humiliated by Castleford in the league and Regal Trophy final, but also from the one which has given the illusion of being on the slide in recent matches. There was an intensity from the first tackle which suggested this time the mood was right. 'That start wasn't something I hammered into them,' said the Wigan coach, John Dorahy. 'The players did it themselves with their desire to go back to Wembley.'

Castleford, visibly shaken by the sheer passion of Wigan's start, made the error of trying to introduce embellishments before they had established a solid pattern of play. Tony Kemp tried to miss out two men with an extravagant pass after five minutes. Unfortunately, he also missed his target, St John Ellis, on the touchline and from the resulting scrum Frano Botica hared away on an arching run to score a 40-yard try.

Seven minutes later, Graham Steadman spilled Shaun Edwards' high kick when under no real pressure and Wigan used the possession to open up Castleford once more, Botica sending in Paul Atcheson, preferred to the talismanic Joe Lydon at full-back and who emerged as one of Wigan's outstanding performers. Two goals from an assured Botica sent Wigan galloping on.

When Andrew Farrell's break again exposed the Castleford defence and Gary Connolly's kick through sat up perfectly in a vacant goal area for Martin Offiah, it was clear that not just revenge but the exorcism of the Castleford demons that Dorahy had called for was on its way.

Opponents who can be devastating when allowed the slightest leeway were limited to one genuine chance in the first half and that was lost when Jason Robinson tackled Simon Middleton into touch. Castleford did produce slightly more cohesion after the break, but both Grant Anderson and Mike Ford failed to find men in support after making potentially dangerous breaks.

Botica extended Wigan's lead to 20 with a penalty after Ian Smales, sinbinned for his intervention, impeded Connolly in his kick and chase. And even Castleford's consolation try a minute from time came from a clear forward pass from Nikau to Kemp, but by then Wigan had proved their point and demonstrated that for all their unsteadiness this season they are still the Wigan of old when Challenge Cup ties come round.

Castleford: Try Kemp; Goal Crooks. Wigan: Tries Atcheson, Botica, Offiah; Goals: Botica 4.

Castleford: Steadman; Ellis, Blackmore, Anderson, Middleton; Kemp, Ford; Crooks, Russell, Ketteridge (England, 26; Ketteridge, 56; England, 63), Morrison (Hay, 26), Smales, Nikau.

Wigan: Atcheson; Robinson, Mather, Connolly, Offiah; Botica, Edwards; Skerrett, Dermott (Dermott, 57), Platt (Bell, 32), Cowie (Platt, 54), Cassidy (Panapa, 25), Farrell.

Referee: S Cummings (Widnes).