Saints stand in Wigan's path

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The Independent Online
The soundest advice to an alien attending the match at Central Park today would be to steer well clear of the subject of a merger between Wigan and St Helens, writes Dave Hadfield.

The Wigan chairman, Jack Robinson, dropped a few hints on that theme earlier this week, primarily as a way of twisting the local council's arm on the question of a new stadium.

But that can be a dangerous game to play, as Robinson has found when faced with irate pensioners wielding walking sticks. Far safer to stick to the subject of Wigan's sixth successive Championship, which will be wrapped up if they beat Saints this afternoon.

What might almost be a routine matter, given Wigan's recent dominance, is given some historical significance by the fact that this will be the last Championship in its current form, to be succeeded by a transitional competition this winter and the Super League - but not, armed and dangerous pensioners please note, a merger between Wigan and Saints - next summer.

Wigan hope to have Va'aiga Tuigamala fit and Martin Offiah back from his thigh injury, but there is a doubt over Phil Clarke's shoulder. Jason Robinson, who misses the match with a broken bone in his foot, is also doubtful for Wigan's annual trip to Wembley in two week's time.

Saints - going to Central Park for the third time this season still looking for their first win-include their free-agent signing from Doncaster, Vila Matautia, in their squad for the first time after receiving his new work permit. Matautia will be a substitute, with Anthony Sullivan, Andy Northey and Sonny Nickle all passed fit to start the game.

Elsewhere today, a league programme which would be otherwise meaningless is enlivened by the meetings of several of the reluctant partners thrown together by the Super League blueprint.

No doubt the supporters of Featherstone and Castleford will show that they agree about one thing, even if it is only that they want nothing to do with each other, and that will be echoed at the matches between Oldham and Salford at Watersheddings and Widnes and Warrington at Naughton Park.

The Castleford coach, John Joyner, said: "It will be a very emotional experience for everyone concerned and it will be difficult for us to concentrate on the job in hand.

"But I'm happy the players will be professional enough to concentrate on their own game and ignore some of the things that could well happen, because feelings are still running so high in the area."

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