Rugby League: Wigan pull off thrilling comeback

Wigan 31 Canterbury 24
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The Independent Online
Wigan made sure of a home draw in the quarter-finals of the World Club Championship, even if their victory was due in the main to Canterbury's failings.

Wigan scraped home in a scrappy match largely thanks to the Bulldogs having two players sent off in the second half. They had struggled to find any rhythm until that, but, faced with 11 men, just about had sufficient composure to complete the double over Canterbury and give themselves a splendid chance of further progress.

Canterbury gifted Wigan the most generous start imaginable by twice dropping Andy Farrell's kicks in the first two minutes. Barry Verrigan spilled the first to put Wigan on the attack and, when the defence failed to take a bomb aimed at the corner, Gary Connolly claimed it for Kris Radlinski to go over. Another Farrell kick added a further two points.

The lead did not last long. Farrell was penalised for holding Travis Norton and, from the tap penalty, Canterbury worked their way to the line for Robert Mears to sneak over.

From then on it was poor and inconclusive stuff from both sides until Farrell's raking pass sent Craig Murdock through a gap. Robert Relf held him down in the tackle and a Farrell penalty put Wigan back in front. Canterbury were prone to horrendous errors and another led to Wigan extending their lead. Verrigan could only scramble Murdock's kick into touch and, after the scrum had been won, Mick Cassidy's pass sent Neil Cowie charging over.

Canterbury were certainly looking bad enough to lose this match, even if Wigan were not necessarily good enough to win it, but they drew level when Craig Polla-Mounter's pass sent Simon Gillies in after seeming to take a deflection on its way.

There was worse to come before the end of a mistake-strewn half, Andy Johnson allowing Glen Hughes' kick to run past him for Daryl Halligan to touch down.

Five minutes into the second half, Hughes was sent off for a high tackle of Stephen Holgate. Even then, Wigan refused to accept their good fortune, Murdock throwing a terrible pass which was picked off by Halligan, who rushed 60 yards to score. But then, in a rare flash of quality, Jason Robinson's pass sent Farrell striding away and his dummy took him under the sticks.

There was more to come as, 13 minutes from time, Wigan equalised, with Murdock's pass sending Robinson over. Almost immediately, Canterbury lost their second miscreant, Steve Reardon taking the walk for use of the elbow, and Farrell slotted home the penalty via the post and quickly added a drop goal.

Another dropped ball saw Connolly sew up the result in the last minute. Wigan were home and dry and will fancy their chances at home to the likes of the Hunter Mariners in the next stage of the competition.

Wigan's coach, Eric Hughes, said: "Normally it's the Australian sides who cope well under pressure, but they seemed to lose their way while we kept our cool and kept focused."

Wigan: Paul; Cardiss, Connolly, Radlinski, A Johnson; Robinson, Murdock; O'Connor, Cassidy, Cowie, Lester, Haughton, Farrell. Substitutes used: Hansen, Holgate, Tallec.

Canterbury: Berrigan; Halligan, Marteene, Timu, El Masri; G Hughes, Polla- Mounter; Britt, Mears, Price, Reardon, Gillies, Norton.Substitutes used: Relf, Newton, Pickering.

Referee: R Smith (Castleford).