Young guns on collision course

Rugby league
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THE PATHS of two of the most gifted young players in the world cross again this afternoon when Wigan continue their campaign to retain the Stones Bitter Championship at Wakefield Trinity.

"We won't be taking them lightly," says Wigan's dazzling young New Zealander Henry Paul. "They beat Wigan last season and they are capable of doing so again." Paul should know. Almost exactly a year ago, he scored a try and four goals for Trinity at Central Park, the last time that Wigan were beaten at home in a league match.

From that day, Wigan were determined to add Paul, snapped up from the Junior Kiwi tour by the then Wakefield coach, David Topliss, to their side. As is so often the case, they got their way. Despite a slight blip when he had an uncomfortable match at full-back against St Helens in the drawn Challenge Cup tie last Saturday and was substituted, Wigan have had no reason to regret that move.

The Wigan jury is still out on the case of their previous signing from Wakefield, the stand-off Nigel Wright. He, too, had a marvellous game against Wigan two years ago and, at the end of that season, became a Wigan player. At £140,000, he became the game's most expensive teenager.

Wright's first season at Central Park was not a success. A combination of injuries and teething troubles with his new team-mates stopped him establishing himself at stand-off - although he played in that defeat by Trinity - and he has been allowed this season to return to Wakefield on loan.

Back at Belle Vue, he has once more shown the mouth-watering array of skills that persuaded Wigan to invest so heavily in his services. His future is a matter for conjecture; Wakefield would love to re-sign him but would struggle to raise the money, while Wigan may yet want to recall him as the replacement for Frano Botica next season when the New Zealander joins the Auckland Warriors.

This afternoon is the perfect opportunity to show that he still has much to offer and the comparison with Paul will be fascinating. As a gifted natural stand-off, Wright is enough of a rarity still to be of inestimable value. Where Paul, three months his junior, has the edge is in his versatility.

Already this season, Paul has shone at full-back, centre and stand-off, while the Wigan coach, Graeme West, has not hesitated to switch him during the course of matches to loose forward, the position in which Paul himself believes his long-term future in the game lies.

The two may yet link up as an ex-Wakefield partnership in Wigan's midfield. The question, given the track record of today's fixture, is whether, if 32-year-old Nigel Bell, for instance, has a big game for Wakefield, Wigan will attempt to sign him as well.