Supreme Wigan set a new mark

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Wigan 40 Warrington 10

Phil Clarke and Frano Botica showed in the winning of the Regal Trophy just what a hole they are going to leave in the Wigan side next season. Along with the mighty Va'aiga Tuigamala, they were the key figures in one of the most comprehensive victories in Wigan's era of ascendancy.

Botica's contribution hardly needs underlining. Until he failed to convert Martin Offiah's injury-time try, he had landed eight attempts in succession, breaking the record set up when Castleford's Lee Crooks put the boot into Wigan in a final last year that still haunted them.

Wigan have proved astonishingly adept at replacing the irreplaceable, but they will not be able to bring in as good a kicker when Botica, along with Denis Betts, goes to the Auckland Warriors this summer, for the simple reason that one does not exist.

The loss of Clarke is more difficult to quantify. His try that was disallowed for a forward pass five minutes from time would have been his first of the season.

"I'm just not made to score tries," he mused afterwards. So complete was his display in other respects that it hardly seemed to matter. His tackling was as remorseless as ever, but he also enjoyed one of his finest afternoons with the ball in his hands, marauding his way through the overwhelmed Warrington defence repeatedly.

When Clarke is in this mood, in fact, it is only his modest try-scoring record that makes him a lesser player than his predecessor for Wigan and Great Britain, Ellery Hanley. Apart from the fact that he is a better creator than scorer, Clarke is in all other respects his equal.

"It was," he said, "one of those days when everything sticks. Warrington weren't as bad as they were made to look; they just couldn't do very much about it."

If Wigan worry about losing three current stars as they survey a trophy cabinet which, at least until the Championship, Premiership and Challenge Cup are on the line once more, is filled to capacity, there are compensations.

Like Henry Paul, another shining light in surprisingly good playing conditions at the McAlpine Stadium, Tuigamala will be around for several years yet, and the progress he has made in his first season in the code is little short of stunning.

Tuigamala attributes his success, after a difficult start in the game, to God and his team-mates, in that order. "It's a real blessing to have players of this calibre around me. They give me the ball early and make it possible for me to run," he said.

There are fires of ambition burning below the surface. "I didn't come into the game to sit on the bench. I was on a mission and that mission was to be the best player I could possibly be."

Tuigamala is already well on the way to that objective. On Saturday, he combined awesome, raw power with some educated handling of the ball. Warrington had no answer to that either.

In retrospect, their best hope was that Shaun Edwards' assessment of his recovery from his hamstring injury would prove over-optimistic. Edwards was perhaps a shade short of his usual mobility, but his organisational skills were still valuable.

Warrington also took a risk at scrum-half, with Greg Mackey only deciding that he could battle on despite a shoulder injury a couple of hours before the match.

All that decision gave him was a front-line view of the hopelessness of Warrington's position as soon as they went 16 points down in as many minutes.

"They are the one team you can't come back against," he said.

The best that could be added on Warrington's behalf was that they showed a measure of resolve in the second half, and even the Wigan players spoke admiringly of Bruce McGuire's chase to catch Botica.

But the limit of their realistic ambition was to keep Wigan below the record score Castleford set last season. That was beyond them, but when Wigan are in this mood it would be beyond any team.

Wigan: Paul; Robinson, Tuigamala (Atcheson 56), Connolly, Offiah; Botica, Edwards; Skerrett (Cowie 55, Tuigamala 75), Hall, Cowie (McDermott h-t), Betts, Cassidy, Clarke.

Warrington: Davies; Forster, Bateman, Harris, Myler; Maloney, Mackey; Tees (Sanderson 66), Barlow (Bennett 66), McGuire, Darbyshire (Sanderson 18, Darbyshire 55), Cullen, Shelford.

Referee: S.Cummings (Widnes).

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