Widnes denied by Tuigamala

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The Independent Online
Widnes 23 Wigan 28 (after extra time)

The landlord was having none of it, not from Wigan fans he took to be almost as recently arrived in rugby league as in his pub,

"I can remember when you were in the Second Division," he told them. "I can remember taking the league off you. I can remember beating you in the Cup final."

Such feats of recollection might have made them wonder whether the name above the door should have been Leslie Welch, The Memory Man. But, on Saturday, Widnes came agonisingly close to transforming fading history into contemporary reality.

Taking the 30 players and the 110 minutes as a whole, Widnes were the better side. That was particularly marked in the packs, strengthening the belief at Wigan that they need one or two new forwards to bring them back up to optimum strength.

Without the injured Kelvin Skerrett, they lacked a foward spark. Widnes performed beyond all expectations, from Steve McCurrie, a loose forward whose pace defies his bulk, to relative unknowns like Craig Makin and Paul Gartland in the front row. The Tongan, Lee Hansen, had a special pre-match haircut, with a nunber eight shaved into the nape of his neck, before he was told that he would be playing at 12. Like his team-mates, however, Hansen knew his role on the day.

Widnes only lost because Wigan had a couple of players capable of transcending their general torpor. Va'aiga Tuigamala set up the first try, after 87 seconds, with a typical run and then scored the one that took the match into extra time after Wigan had trailed by 12 points with 11 minutes to play. He made one and scored one in that gruelling added half-hour and, along with Henry Paul, proved to be Wigan's salvation.

He did not have a perfect afternoon, showing vestiges of his old rugby union immobility in missing the tackle for Widnes' first try and later spending 10 minutes in the sin-bin - although that was a case of mistaken identity.

Tuigamala, after something of a hiatus, is once more the player who terrorised defences last season. That, as well as Wigan's continuing ability to dig themselves out of the deepest of holes, is bad news for the rest.

Widnes: Broadbent; Devereux, Pechey (Kelly 93), Wright, Thorniley; Tyrer, Cooper; Makin (J Cassidy 80), Gartland, Platt, Hulme, Hansen, McCurrie.

Wigan: Robinson (Offiah 67); Smyth, Tuigamala, Connolly, Offiah (Murdock h-t); Paul, Edwards; O'Connor (Cowie 67), Hall, Cowie (Quinnell 58), Haughton, M Cassidy, Farrell.

Referee: R Smith (Castleford).