Wigan in the Wembley way

Oldham 20 Wigan 48
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The Independent Online
IT SAYS much about the standards that Wigan have set for themselves over the seven years that they have dominated the Silk Cut Challenge Cup that yesterday's victory over Oldham at Huddersfield left them feeling profoundly dissatisfied.

Despite easing to a clear-cut win that was never in any doubt, Wigan rarely touched the heights of which they are capable. They dropped more passes than they usually do in half a dozen matches while their defence was not its usual miserly self.

To have won by the margin they did shows just how far they are ahead of the game. "They were lucky we didn't play well," was one of the least self-critical comments in the Wigan dressing room afterwards.

Perhaps the truth of the matter was that despite their 16 points in the second half, Oldham were simply not good enough to bring out the best in Wigan.

The general expectation of the way the game was destined to go was summed up by the way a small army of photographers moved to the end Wigan were attacking when the teams turned round for the kick-off.

They did not have long to wait. Denis Betts strode through some weak tackling after only eight minutes and, despite the determined Adrian Belle hitting back quickly with a try for Oldham, the pattern of the match was set.

Quite apart from some poor defence, Oldham's tendency to give away far too many penalties put them under continuous pressure. Wigan were bound to take advantage and they did so with tries from Gary Connolly, Shaun Edwards and a powerful solo effort down the right flank, from the admirable Betts.

The match was effectively over and Wigan had booked their eighth successive Wembley trip, but Va'aiga Tuigamala removed any residual doubt by going in for the first of his two tries, despite a trip by David Stephenson that saw the Oldham hooker placed on report.

Connolly, whose outstanding display won him the man-of-the- match award, completed a hat-trick, including a spectacular third try that took him 60 yards down the touchline.

Tuigamala's clever dummy brought another try and Barrie-Jon Mather raced away untouched for one in the last minute, Frano Botica contributing the last of his six goals.

But Oldham maintained a level of aggression, and Wigan's defence was always vulnerable enough to give them some encouragement. They turned it into points with Ian Sherratt's barge over the line and with a well- taken second from Belle, but the side that last beat Wigan in the Challenge Cup eight years ago were no match for a team even below their mighty best.

Oldham: Gibson; Belle, Topping, Abram, Ranson (Bradbury, 32); Marsh, Crompton; Sherratt (Richards, 34, Sherratt, 55), Stephenson, Temu (Richards, 71) Lord, Faimalo, Kuiti.

Wigan: Paul; Robinson, Tuigamala, Connolly, Offiah (Mather, 25); Botica, Edwards; Skerrett (Farrell, 34), Hall, Cowie, Betts, Cassidy, Clarke.

Referee: R. Smith (Castleford)