Rugby League: Wigan return to serious business: Young forwards inspire champions but New Zealanders' careers at risk

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Wigan. . . . . . . 40

Sheffield Eagles. .10

WIGAN proceeded with the interrupted business of defending their First Division championship last night, completing their first league match since their disaster at Castleford at the end of last month.

Sheffield were awkward opponents at times, especially during a first half when Wigans' rhythm wasafected by injuries to Nigel Wright and Shaun Edwards. The champions eventually showed enough to suggest that they will carry the fight to keep their title right to the end.

An inexperienced Sheffield side put themselves under pressure from the start, knocking on from Wigan's kick-off and being forced on to the defensive until the punishment arrived. Edwards set up the try with a kick to the corner and Sam Panapa arrived to score.

Edwards tended to kick to excess as Sheffield managed to keep the champions at bay. The Eagles equalised with their first genuine opportunity, Barrie-Jon Mather losing the ball in Ian Hughes' tackle and Mark Aston picking up for Lynton Scott to score in the corner.

Off went Edwards, holding his shoulder, and Wigan found themselves relying too much on one-man charges. When they did move the ball more freely, the pressure told and Mather's pass sent Martin Offiah over on his opposite wing.

Mather was the final provider again, putting Danny Ellison over in a similar position after Alex Thompson had dropped the ball.

Andrew Farrell continued the pattern of Wigan's young forwards doing the damage, powering on to Mick Cassidy's pass to score four minutes after the restart. Within two minutes, Martin Hall had sent Panapa clear for his second. Frano Botica claimed a belated first success.

Sheffield replied defiantly, handling the ball cleverly and Aston put Hughes through an inviting gap for a try which Aston converted.

Wigan cancelled out that gesture when Cassidy claimed two well-deserved tries and Offiah crossed for his second a minute from time.

Wigan: Wright (Lydon, 17); Ellison, Panapa, Connolly, Offiah; Botica, Edwards (Cassidy, 24); Skerrett, Hall, Platt, Cowie, Mather, Andrew Farrell.

Sheffield Eagles: Gamson; Stott, Price, Fraisse, Mann; Sheridan, Aston; Thompson, Jackson (Cane, 57), Laughton (Randall,15), McGuire, Hughes, Anthony Farrell.

Referee: J Holdsworth (Kippax).