West's plan to improve further

Dave Hadfield believes the last thing rugby league needs now is a stronger Wigan
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The Independent Online
Even in Wigan's latest hour of triumph - the victory over Bradford on Tuesday night that made Central Park the permanent resting place of the championship trophy - attention was turning ominously to how they can make themselves even more powerful.

That is the conundrum of rugby league in the 1990s. Wigan, who were yesterday nominated to play in the Middlesex Sevens at Twickenham on 11 May and will send their strongest team, are the benchmark at which the others must aim. However, the last thing the game needs is for Wigan to raise their standards even further.

Plans are already afoot for an American-style training camp. All their recent success has been achieved without a training facility to call their own, so the benefit they could derive from something along those lines is a daunting prospect.

Then there is the question of the playing personnel. Wigan have won everything on offer so far this season with a squad well below optimum strength.

As their captain, Shaun Edwards, pointed out on Tuesday night, the club has lost a third of its first-team squad over the past 18 months; players such as Dean Bell, Andy Platt, Phil Clarke, Denis Betts and Frano Botica, who have not, for the most part, been replaced.

The only significant additions this season have made a negligible contribution. Nigel Wright, back from his recuperative loan to Wakefield, has been injured since September, and the former Western Samoa rugby union forward, Shem Tatupu, has not yet figured in the first team.

Instead, Wigan have relied on their younger, home-grown products - and, even there, the cupboard is not quite as abundant as it has been. Their coach, Graeme West, believes that there is a gap in the structure of the club - a shortage of players in their late teens just below first-team level.

Indeed, when you compare Wigan's resources in that age-group, it is possible to argue that other clubs, such as Leeds, St Helens and Warrington, are as well off or better. That is one factor that leads some to suppose that it will be tougher for Wigan when Super League dawns at the end of March.

Edwards, a man who thrives on competition if ever there was one, firmly believes that other clubs going full-time and having a week between matches will help them to reach the same heights of excellence that Wigan have colonised so completely.

However, Wigan, as they emphasised even as the champagne was flowing, will not co-operate by standing still. There is potential in the players they already have that can be exploited more efficiently.

And, as their chairman, Jack Robinson, hinted yesterday, it might be necessary to spend big again to meet the new challenges that lie ahead.

"To compete with the best Australian clubs in the play-offs, we do probably need a couple of new signings," he said, giving the distinct impression that, somewhere adjacent to the championship trophy's new site in the boardroom, the relevant names have already been jotted down.

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