Rugby League: Wigan's mirror image

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The Independent Online
THE First Division leaders, Wigan, meet Third Division opponents who have copied them successfully, at Workington tomorrow, writes Dave Hadfield. Peter Walsh, Workington's Australian coach, admits to mimicking Wigan's game-plan. With a run of eight victories, it is working as well for him as it has for his opposing coach in the third round of the Regal Trophy, John Monie.

'We have set out to play the same way as them; driving out of our 22 and using a long kicking game,' Walsh said.

Whether Workington can stick to that pattern tomorrow is a different matter. They will not be helped if their prop from New Zealand, James Pickering, is forced out with an ankle injury.

Monie, whose highly structured approach to his work is illustrated by his decision that he will not talk or even think about his next job in Auckland until his present one at Wigan ends in May, has had problems at full-back this week. Joe Lydon has had a minor knee operation and Steve Hampson pulled a calf in training. Frano Botica, who will be one of Auckland's first targets, moves to full-back, with Jason Robinson coming in at scrum-half.

Today's televised quarter-final brings together Castleford and St Helens eight days after their league meeting. The Castleford coach, Darryl Van de Velde, has spent the week hammering home the message that, despite winning convincingly in the end, his side dropped too much ball last week and cannot expect to get away with it again.

Castleford are unchanged again and that stability has been a major factor in their recent run of seven victories. 'But any psychological advantage from last week will be balanced by St Helens' home advantage,' Van de Velde said. Saints have Paul Loughlin in their starting line-up for the first time this season. Jarrod McCracken is shunted on to the wing.

The other ties will see Leigh's recent improvement tested at Hull, and Bradford Northern try to rediscover the winning habit at home to Widnes. Both away sides are affected by freak injuries. The Leigh scrum-half, Stuart Pugsley, has fallen down the stairs at his home and damaged knee ligaments. Widnes' Australian stand- off, Julian O'Neill, has a septic finger caused by taking part in the dangerous game of darts.