Rugby League: Wigan penning the same old script: Castleford hope to rise above recent history in today's Regal Trophy final

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The Independent Online
THE ultimate mug's game over the last 10 years would have consisted of the misguided act of backing against Wigan in major finals, writes Dave Hadfield. The same applies when they meet Castleford in the Regal Trophy final at Headingley this afternoon. Wigan's decade of almost unbroken success gives them an unrivalled expertise on the big occasion.

And yet, when Castleford are involved, the suspicion lingers that anything could happen.

It would not be wise to put too much weight on the 46-0 victory over Wigan in October; that was achieved with Wigan fielding a virtual reserve line-up. It is a warning, however, of just what Castleford can do if allowed to run free.

Under their new coach, John Joyner, Castleford have struck a good balance between the structured and the instinctive. The blend of individuals is right as well, with the pace of Graham Steadman and St John Ellis complementing the physical power of the two New Zealanders, Richie Blackmore and Tony Kemp, in the backs.

In the forwards, the ball skills of Lee Crooks and Tawera Nikau need the backing of workers like Martin Ketteridge and Tony Morrison. With the former Wigan connection of Mike Ford and Richard Russell controlling tactics around the play- the-ball, there is no doubt that Castleford are capable of beating anyone on their day. The trouble is that Wigan do not allow other sides to have their day at cup finals.

Just as for John Monie four years ago, the Regal Trophy gives John Dorahy his first taste of a major occasion as Wigan coach and he is determined - especially in view of the strained relationship between Monie and Wigan - to show that he can prepare a side just as expertly.

Joe Lydon, Shaun Edwards and Martin Dermott have been passed fit for Wigan; Sam Panapa, recovered from his shoulder injury, will be on the bench alongside Mick Cassidy.

'Castleford have plenty of players who can open you up,' Dorahy said. 'But our defence should be stronger than theirs.'

He expects a ferocious start from Castleford, laced with 'intimidatory tactics', and has warned his fiery prop, Kelvin Skerrett, about conceding penalties. If he and his team-mates can produce their usual disciplined fury, they should win one of their more difficult finals.