Rugby: New Wigan show

Dave Hadfield says today will see first fruits of Lindsay's vision
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The Independent Online
THE QUESTION this Boxing Day is whether you prefer your rugby league festive and star-spangled, or functional and relevant.

One season starts today and another is merely foreshadowed, but there will be far bigger crowds for the friendlies at Wigan, Castleford and Leeds than there will for the opening fixtures in the Northern Ford Premiership.

Leeds get in first this morning, with their Boxing Day derby against Bradford seeing the debuts of their new Australians, Paul Bell and David Barnhill, as well as the Bulls' newcomers, Justin Brooker and Hudson Smith, with Brad Mackay to follow in the New Year.

At noon, Cas play host to their neighbours from Wakefield, with both sides fielding new faces, while over at the JJB Stadium this afternoon Wigan stage their traditional holiday match against St Helens at their new home for the first time.

The Wigan chairman, Maurice Lindsay, now back at the club he made the most successful in the history of the game in the 1980s, has made his first priority the clearing out of the existing overseas players and their replacement by those he regards as closer to the world-class standard he requires.

So Steve Renouf and Willie Peters will make their bow today, although the new Wigan coach, Frank Endacott, does not yet have his work permit and will arrive in January, as will the other new signings, Brett Dallas and Brady Malam. Dean Bell takes temporary charge.

Saints have fielded some weak sides in this fixture in the past and the Super League Champions will again be without a string of recuperating first-teamers. They will, however, give a first outing to their new imports, Darrell Trindall and Bryan Henare.

But there will be no first-choice players willingly left on the sidelines when 10 of the 18 teams in the Northern Ford Premiership begin their season today. The early start is an attempt to bring in more supporters and, fittingly, last year's - or rather this year's - winners, Dewsbury, start earliest of all, at noon today at their neighbours, Batley.

There is another tasty local derby between two of the better fancied sides for this season's title, Leigh and Widnes, while there will be a tasty Cumbrian clash at Barrow, where Whitehaven travel down the coast. Swinton have the short straw of a Christmas visit to Workington, while Doncaster - bottom last season, but energetic in their recruitment - begin at York.