Wigan remain on course for full basket

Rugby League's Championship is all-but decided already. Dave Hadfield reports
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The Independent Online
The Chinese have a delicacy called 100-year-old eggs. The inscrutable men who run British rugby league in this centenary season have put all their eggs in one basket.

There is only one thing to play for in league competition this season. It is a winner-takes-all prize of a modest pounds 75,000, which virtually everyone accepts will finish up swelling the coffers at Wigan.

For the rest, there is nothing - no play-off places, no promotion, no relegation - just an exercise in marking time until the Super League begins in March. This would not be too bad if there was any real doubt about the destination of the Stones Centenary Championship. But there isn't: Monday's demolition of St Helens - the side widely touted to challenge them - showed that Wigan are not merely as impregnable as ever, but possibly even more so.

We are all to blame for the illusion that it might be otherwise. Outside the boundaries of Wigan, and sometimes even within them, we leap upon the flimsiest evidence of a turning of the tide like starving dogs on a meat and potato pie.

Warrington, a potential stumbling block for Wigan in recent years, look particularly ill-equipped to stop them tomorrow, with Mark Jones and Phil Sumner suspended and Jonathan Davies and Iestyn Harris added to the long list of the injured. Wigan, on the other had, are strengthened by the return of Shaun Edwards.

Dean Bell will arrive in Britain today in time to watch Leeds against St Helens, the match cynics are calling the battle for the runners-up spot. Bell will leave team selection in the hands of Hugh McGahan, while Dean Busby is in line to make his debut for Saints.

St John Ellis, fresh from the South Queensland Crushers, makes his Bradford Bulls debut at full-back against the London Broncos, with Warren Jowitt, newly-signed from Hunslet, on the bench.

Andy Platt will make his first appearance for Widnes at home to Whitehaven, along with Shane Cooper, signed this summer from St Helens.

nThe New Zealander, Stanley Martin, is to coach Whitehaven following Kurt Sorensen's departure to Workington. He will arrive from County Manuakoa at the end of October.

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