Tradition kept by fans and Farrell

Rugby League: Wigan 32 St Helens 22

There is still an appetite for winter rugby - or there is if it is played between traditional rivals on Boxing Day. More than 16,000 people deserted the family hearth and the cold turkey for Central Park, even though they suspected, correctly, that the two teams would bear even less resemblance to full strength than they had been led to believe.

In the event, the fare on offer was far better than the menu suggested. It was a genuine Bank Holiday derby, contested with plenty of feeling and, considering who was missing, no shortage of skill.

Wigan were without all their part-time rugby union players as well as a number of key men nursing injuries. But the absences that really hurt were those of the St Helens half-backs.

Their playmaker, Bobbie Goulding, was forced to pull out yesterday morning with a back injury, while his partner Karle Hammond withdrew after a family bereavement.

The ad hoc combination that replaced them was never going to be strong enough to pose many problems for Wigan, who showed that, in the backs at any rate, there are still some largely untapped reserves of talent.

It was two players who talents are already well known, however, who were the crucial contributors for their depleted side. Kris Radlinski scored a first-half hat-trick before limping off with a dead leg in the second and Andy Farrell gave a dominating exhibition of loose forward skills.

It was Craig Murdock's kick that set up Radlinski's first try and the surprise after that was that Saints, thanks to a Derek McVey touch down, held their own almost until half-time.

But one of their young debutantes, the reserve hooker, Allan Cross, knocked- on at the play-the-ball and from the resulting scrum Radlinski pounced again, this time on a kick from the effervescent Sean Long.

Immediately before the interval, Wigan took firm control when Farrell's looping pass gave Radlinski his third and the Saint's coach, Shaun McRae, admitted afterwards that he could see a 40-point defeat looming.

Doc Murray, the most impressive of Wigan's three new signings making their first appearances, took Farrell's delightful inside pass to go over 15 minutes into the second half, soon followed by the French substitutes, Gael Tallec.

To their credit, Saints fought back with a second try from McVey and others from their stand-in half-backs, Lee Briers and Alan Hunte.

Wigan also scored, through Danny Ellison from another superb pass from Farrell, but Saints had done enough to keep alive their interest in the return game at Knowsley Road on New Year's Day. With the pounds 15,000 winner-takes-all purse to be decided on aggregate, Saints still have everything left to play for.

"I thought we were flattered by the score. We deserved to lose by more than 10 points," McRae said. But Hunte, who played his first ever game at stand-off because of Hammond's personal tragedy, echoed Saints' general relief. "Commitment came into it at the end rather than pure skill and that means we've got something to take to Knowsley Road," he said.

Wigan: Murray; Ellison, Radlinski, A Johnson, Cardiss; Long, Murdock; Cowie, Hall, Sherratt, Barrow, Holgate, Farrell. Substitutes used: Gilmour, Tallec, Hatton, Baines.

St Helens: Prescott; Arnold, Northey, Newlove, Sullivan; Hunte, Briers; Perelini, Cross, O'Neill, McVey, Pickavance, Morley. Substitutes used: Anderson, Matautia, Booth, Busby

Referee: S Cummings (Widnes).

There was another good crowd, 13,600 at Headingley, as Halifax beat the home side 14-6 to take a cheque for pounds 10,000. Halifax looked sharper in the first half and went ahead with a try from Paul Anderson, converted by John Schuster.

An exchange of penalties made the score 8-2 at half-time and after 14 minutes of the second half Paul Sterling squeezed in at the corner for Leeds' only try to close the gap to two points. Two minutes later the Halifax prop, Martin Moana, replied in kind to win the game and the cash.

More than 5,000 turned up at the McAlpine Stadium to see Huddersfield beat Keighley 40-10.

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