Wigan enter the comfort zone

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The Independent Online
Wigan 46 Castleford 6

After the chaos and conjecture over whether Martin Offiah would be fit or eligible to play in this match, it was virtually inevitable that he would be a central figure in what developed into an awesome team performance.

Cynical cries of "It's a miracle," greeted Offiah's appearance at kick-off time at Central Park yesterday despite the knee injury that had ruled him out of the World Sevens in Sydney. The real miracle lies in the game's inability to sort out relatively simple administrative matters quickly and cleanly.

Offiah was as confused as anyone. "I was told on Friday that I could play and then I saw on TV on Saturday that I couldn't," he said.

"I still wasn't a hundred per cent fit and I wouldn't have played if Jason Robinson had been fit."

Castleford's feeling that it would have been much better all round if he had not been allowed to play must have hardened into certainty within the first 25 minutes, during which Offiah twice supported breaks by Shaun Edwards and Henry Paul to score Wigan's first two tries.

Although a below-par Castleford briefly flickered into life before half-time with a try from Andy Hay, set free by Tawera Nikau's deft pass, this was a match Wigan would have won with some comfort, with or without Offiah.

From the start, their ability to keep the ball alive was breathtaking and the try that they scored two minutes into the second half was as good a team effort as you could ever hope to see.

Offiah began it in uncharacteristic style, running not round but through two tacklers in his own 25 - "He's nasty when that knee gives him a twinge," said that sceptical voice - and wonderful handling by Va'aiga Tuigamala kept it flowing for Edwards to send in Neil Cowie.

Despite Offiah's hat-trick, completed in the last minute courtesy of Mick Cassidy's strong break and well-timed pass, Tuigamala's glorious running made him a worthy choice as man of the match. His juggling interception to release Kris Radlinski was another moment to treasure, before Gary Connolly contributed two tries as a prelude to Offiah's third.

Connolly, Cassidy, Cowie - in his best match since the World Club Challenge in Brisbane last June - and Phil Clarke all had glittering games, not to mention Frano Botica, with nine goals from as many attempts, as Wigan went back to the top of the First Division. Equally encouraging for the coach, Graeme West, is the way that young players such as Radlinski and Simon Haughton are already establishing their credentials for the future.

In this frame of mind, combining dazzling enterprise with remorseless precision in an irresistibly heady mix, Wigan will not be stopped, either in the Stones Bitter Championship or by St Helens in the Silk Cup Challenge Cup on Saturday.

Send them all, first-teamers and reserves, to the Sevens and leave them there. That might sound defeatist but on afternoons such as this it seems the only answer.

Wigan: Paul; Radlinski, Tuigamala, Connolly, Offiah; Botica, Edwards; McDermott (Skerrett, 3; Atcheson, 23), Hall, Cowie, Cassidy, Haughton, Clarke.

Castleford: Flowers; Smith, Blackmore, Middleton, Wray; Kemp, Stephens; Crooks, Price, Ketteridge (Sykes, 26), Morrison (Coventry, 58), Hay, Nikau.

Referee: D Campbell (Widnes).

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