Wigan on a roll

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The Independent Online
BY DAVE HADFIELD

Simon Haughton, the new breed of back-row forward at Wigan, will play at Old Trafford tomorrow, but he might not know until the morning whether it will be at 11.45am or 4pm.

Haughton, a 19-year-old from Bradford who has hinted this season at his ability to step into the boots of the departing Denis Betts and Phil Clarke, is in the squad for Wigan's Stones Bitter Premiership final against Leeds.

But if Betts, Clarke and Andrew Farrell, all of whom have been recovering from injuries, are all fit, Haughton could have to restructure his day and play in the Academy final against St Helens.

The Wigan coach, Graeme West, also names Mick Cassidy - back after concussion - and Terry O'Connor as forward cover, with another Academy-aged player, Kris Radlinski, continuing in the centres in place of Va'aiga Tuigamala.

Wigan have beaten Leeds for both the Championship and the Challenge Cup this season, but West said: "We expect a very tough match. They will want to make amends for Wembley."

Leeds will surely not lack for motivation, but it is difficult to visualise Wigan not achieving a unique clean sweep in the last season of its sort.

Not for the first time, the Second Division final is more awkward to predict. Keighley have had a wonderful season and their coach, Phil Larder, is proud of a defensive record that is even better than Wigan's, but they are without their scrum-half, Steve Robinson, through injury.

His replacement, the Australian Darren Appleby, is a penetrative runner who should be suited by Old Trafford, but the same is true of Huddersfield's stand-off, Dean Hanger. Greg Austin, one behind Martin Offiah with 52 tries so far this season, is another Australian who could make a major impact.

The regular first team hooker, Keiron Cunningham, will play for St Helens' Academy side against Wigan - something that is within the law if not the spirit of the competition. With or without Haughton, however, Wigan will have a player with first-team experience, Sean Long, in the opening match of a day of rugby that far more than the reduced capacity of 32,000 would like to see.

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