Rugby League: Wigan prove they are the best: Points make the difference for the holders again as they secure their fifth successive championship

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The Independent Online
Oldham. . .6

Wigan. . .50

WIGAN duly completed all that was required of them to retain the Stones Bitter First Division Championship for a fifth year, finally overwhelming an aggressive Oldham at Watersheddings last night.

After an uneven season that sometimes seemed likely to mark the beginning of the end of the supremacy, there was particular satisfaction for Wigan in collecting the trophy, cheque and an invitation to a lucrative World Club Challenge against the Brisbane Broncos in Australia in June.

Wigan's scoring came in clusters, the first after Oldham, with nothing to play for but the prospect of ruining the party, had given them a torrid first 25 minutes.

Oldham's fiery approach had forced a strangely hesitant Wigan into a series of mistakes and the pressure they exerted could have produced more than the Darren Abram penalty which put them in the lead.

But Wigan, slow into their stride, were unstoppable once they got moving. The whole match turned their way on the axis of Barrie-Jon Mather, Martin Offiah and Shaun Edwards, who were involved in all three of the tries they scored within nine devastating minutes before half-time.

Edwards, Gary Connolly and Mather sent Offiah down the touchline for the first. Frano Botica's pass to Edwards then allowed Offiah to send in Mather. Before Oldham had assessed the damage, Mather, Offiah and Connolly continued to work the variations to release Edwards.

An occasionally brutal start to the second half saw Wigan's hooker, Martin Hall, sent to the sin-bin but also brought another quickfire treble.

Andy Platt and Mather prepared the way for Edwards' second and Offiah also collected another try courtesy of Mather, who must surely have secured his place at Wembley on Saturday.

Botica's superb sidestep left John Clark for dead and Botica then provided Connolly with the final pass for his try.

Abram did get over for a try after a vintage run by the former Wigan hero, Andy Goodway, but Wigan were by now finding more gaps than they knew how to use and Sam Panapa went through one of the more obvious ones for the penultimate try.

Last word went to Botica, who chased his own kick to dive over for a suitably flamboyant finale.

For a second successive season, it has taken points difference to keep the championship at Central Park. But Wigan showed again last night that there still is a difference

between them and the rest, even though Bradford and Warrington gave them an admirable fight and more than one fright.

'After all the trials and tribulations it's extremely pleasing to have finally come away with the spoils in my first season,' John Dorahy, the Wigan coach, said. 'The way in which we won vindicates what I have been trying to do with the team.'

Oldham: Gibson; Heslop, Irwin (McAlister, 35); Abram, Jones, Liddiard, Crompton, Sherratt (McDermott, 66), Clark, McDermott (Tupaea, 51), Lindner, Goodway, Kuiti.

Wigan: Connolly; Tuigamala (Panapa, 52), Bell, Mather, Offiah; Botica, Edwards (Skerrett, 62); Skerrett (Cowie, 44), Hall, Platt, Betts, Farrell, Clarke.

Referee: D Atkin (York).

More rugby league, page 33

(Photograph omitted)

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