Weather is Wigan's major foe

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The Independent Online
Rugby League

DAVE HADFIELD

Wigan could win the Stones Centenary Championship today but that depends on Warrington, St Helens, Leeds and the weather - not necessarily in that order.

If Wigan beat Warrington this lunchtime and Leeds lose at St Helens, Central Park will become the permanent home of the soon-to-be-defunct Championship Trophy. Even a pair of results that yield Wigan a point more than Leeds will be enough.

The biggest barrier in Wigan's path is the weather, although Warrington are more confident than Saints of getting their game played. If they do, Wigan could be without Martin Offiah and Kelvin Skerrett, both of whom have seen a specialist this week with ankle injuries.

Warrington's coach, Brian Johnson, has a more complete squad to select from than he has been used to in recent weeks, although Michael Wainwright and Phil Sumner are still out of contention.

If Leeds play at Knowsley Road, they will do so without Francis Cummins and Tony Kemp, both of whom were injured against Castleford in one of the only two games to be played on Boxing Day.

Garry Schofield will start at scrum-half and Graham Holroyd returns to the first team at full-back, with Anthony Gibbons dropping to the bench.

Saints will be without Joey Hayes, Anthony Sullivan, Chris Joynt, Paul Newlove and Keiron Cunningham, with Ian Pickavance, Apollo Perelini and Vila Matautia subject to late fitness tests.

Bobbie Goulding is back after suspension, however, and other regulars like Scott Gibbs, Andy Northey and Adam Fogerty return after missing the Boxing Day match at Wigan, in which Saints fielded a reserve line-up.

Both Warrington and St Helens plan nine o'clock inspections this morning, but Saints are confident that the slow thaw will allow them to play their postponed Regal Trophy semi-final against Warrington on Thursday.

The one game certain to go ahead today is at Huddersfield, where Bradford Bulls and Halifax have had the presence of mind to switch the match frozen off at Odsal on Boxing Day.

Apart from the suspended Matt Calland, the Bradford coach, Brian Smith, has a full squad to select from for the first time since he took up the position. Halifax' Steve Simms is not so lucky, with Wayne Parker ruled out with a broken arm, the 17-year-old Chris Chester making his debut at stand-off and Craig Dean switching to scrum-half.

Simms has had his knuckles rapped this week for suggesting that the should cut its losses and call an early end to this overcrowded, weather-hit transitional season.

Once Wigan have clinched the one prize on offer, be that today or next week, there will be many members of the paying public inclined to agree with him.

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