Rugby League: Wigan rely on Offiah's drop and tackle: Championship race hots up as Warrington go top while champions overcome rivals and Bradford lose

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The Independent Online
St Helens. 9

Wigan. . . .15

ACTS of charity have not been part of the tradition of these Good Friday derbies, but, if Wigan maintain their precarious grip on the Stones Bitter Championship, they will look back on Saints' generosity with gratitude.

After a troubled week during which the appointment of Dean Bell as John Dorahy's minder made co-ordination and motivation the buzz words around Central Park, Wigan showed plenty of the second quality but less of the first.

The main reason, however, that they salvaged a win to sustain their title hopes was St Helens' failure to capitalise on an excellent start by taking their subsequent chances.

When Bernard Dwyer found an inviting gap from dummy-half and his kick deflected from Andy Platt's shoulder to give him a try within two minutes, Wigan's title odds seemed in danger of lengthening along with their losing run. But,

after Tommy Martyn had added the conversion and a drop goal, Saints lost their way.

Martyn was partly to blame, missing a string of penalties and drop-goal attempts. Saints' worst sins, though, came when they made breaks in the threequarters, with Paul Loughlin particularly at fault when he muffed passes to his wingers on four occasions.

Wigan might still be some way from their best, but they can take a hint. A strong run by Phil Clarke, whose return to the pack after a two-month absence made a noticeable difference, set up Shaun

Edwards for a try which Frano Botica improved.

Although Martyn's one successful penalty nudged Saints further ahead, a three-point gap at half-time did not seem enough to show for 40 minutes with a gale at their backs. So it transpired, with the generosity of Martyn and Loughlin continuing, and Botica's boot soon bringing Wigan within a single point.

Two unexpected contributions from Martin Offiah had a major

influence on Wigan's victory surge. A player whose relative under- achievement has exemplified Wigan's problems, he was far more involved and effective yesterday.

First, he landed the third drop goal of his career to bring his side level. Then, after Wigan had taken the lead, he preserved it with a well- executed low, try-saving tackle on Alan Hunte. Small wonder that his relieved, but still embattled coach, Dorahy, singled him out for special praise afterwards.

Another crucial figure who has not always been seen at his best this season is Platt. He was much more like his old self on his old home ground yesterday and was there on Martin Dermott's shoulder when the Wigan hooker made a nimble run from dummy-half 14 minutes from the end.

As Platt touched down and Wigan took the lead for the first time it was not quite a case of business as usual - but sending out redundancy notices might be premature.

St Helens: Lyon; Riley, Hunte, Loughlin, Sullivan; Ropati, Martyn; Dannatt, Dwyer, Mann (Harrison, 22; Mann, 57), Joynt, Pickavance (Veivers, 28), Cooper.

Wigan: Atcheson; Robinson, Mather, Connolly, Offiah; Botica, Edwards; Skerrett, Dermott, Platt, Cassidy (Panapa, 51), Farrell (Cowie, 12), Clarke.

Referee: R Smith (Castleford).