Rugby League: Wigan show face of future

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The Independent Online
Wigan. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .19

Hull. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .4

IF WIGAN are envied for one thing beyond their sheer success it is for the depth of talent they are popularly supposed to have in reserve. On Saturday, in the aftermath of the club's worst defeat of modern times, they showed there is still more truth than myth in that assumption.

Summer sales to reduce a frightening wage bill mean that Wigan cannot call down the mineshaft for internationals from their A team to the extent they once could. What they still have on tap is a resource of greater long-term value - some of the finest young players in the country.

A bumper crop of injuries, plus the suspension of Kelvin Skerrett, meant that those Wigan stars of the future carried a heavy responsibility on Saturday as the club qualified for the final of the Regal Trophy on 23 January and exorcised the ghosts of that 41-6 thrashing at St Helens last week.

The Wigan coach, John Monie, admitted that he had been worried about throwing so many of his young prospects into a major semi-final. He need not have been. Experienced players such as Steve Hampson, Shaun Edwards and Phil Clarke exerted just the right degree of control - guiding and protecting while still allowing the youngsters enough rein.

Neil Cowie, usually No 4 in the prop-forward pecking order, also revelled in the responsibility of being the senior available front- rower. His tries at the end of each half turned Wigan's superiority into a decisive win.

The keynote, however, was the quality of rugby played by the recruits. Barrie-Jon Mather has long been pencilled in as the Next Big Thing at Wigan. He has had a few tastes of first-team rugby, but Saturday marked his coming of age.

A massive stride makes him a desperately difficult runner to tackle, as he showed in scoring the first Wigan try and in making a number of other threatening breaks. The other members of the Wigan brat pack, Andrew Farrell and Mick Cassidy, also did well.

But perhaps the most encouraging performance came from Paul Atcheson, a makeweight in the deal that took David Myers to Widnes at the start of the season, who was making his first-team debut.

Not for the first time, Wigan could turn out to have got the best of the bargain. Atcheson always looked a highly promising young player at Widnes; on Saturday he slotted into the Wigan left wing in splendid fashion.

He always looked capable of beating tacklers and showed that he has the knack of staying involved in play. No doubt it owes a lot to the fact that he was not subjected to the same obsessive marking, but it was intriguing to see that he enjoyed far more possession than Martin Offiah in the games before the shoulder injury that kept the Great Britain winger out on Saturday. Even when Atcheson stands aside for Offiah's return, form of this sort will keep him in contention for a place somewhere in the backs.

Hull, despite strong contributions from Jon Sharp and Lee Jackson, were not quite good enough to expose any shortcomings in the Wigan blend. With Andy Dannatt, Ian Marlow and Steve McNamara, it might have been a different story, but Wigan's next generation gave the strong impression that they would have risen to the task.

The weather wiped out yesterday's entire Stones Bitter championship programme. St Helens against the bottom club, Leigh, has been rearranged for Wednesday. All the Second and Third Division games have also been rearranged.

Wigan: Tries Cowie 2, Mather; Goals Botica 3; Drop Botica. Hull: Try Donkin.

Wigan: Hampson; Robinson, Panapa, Farrar, Atcheson; Edwards (capt), Botica; Cowie, Crompton (Cassidy, 4) (Farrell, 51), Gildart, Mather, McGinty (Cassidy, 76), Clarke.

Hull: Gay; Eastwood, Grant, Nolan, Donkin; Gale, Henjak; Durham (Wilson, 28) (Walker, 76), Jackson, Walker (Durham, 67), Jackson (Rushton, 53), Sharp, Busby.

Referee: R Whitfield (Widnes).