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16th March 1997: Wigan 20 Halifax 18

Wigan Warriors v Halifax Blue Sox - 1997 Super League II Round 1.
Sunday 16th March 1997 at Central Park.

Match Report from The Independent Newspaper

Wigan's luck has turned. That is the only conclusion to be drawn from the way they denied Halifax the reward they deserved from yesterday's nerve-jangling clash.

For most of this match, an unbeaten home record in the league that stretches back three years was in danger and it took a dramatic last minute before it was finally safe.

Wigan had taken the lead four minutes from time, the magnificent Andy Farrell getting out an inspired pass to send Andy Johnson racing in at the corner to equalise and Farrell put them in front.

As Halifax tried to grab a late match-winner of their own, Wayne Parker launched a high kick which Craig Murdock failed to catch. That set up Martin Moana for what should have been the decisive try, had it not been for a wonderful tackle from Kris Radlinski.

Halifax would still, in all probability, have scored down the unguarded left flank if Moana had been allowed to play the ball quickly. Instead, Murdock held him down, intending to concede the penalty and the draw, rather than risking the try and defeat.

Murdock was duly sin-binned and John Schuster, arguably the most reliable kicker in the game and one who had landed three more difficult shots, lined up a simple attempt to give Halifax the share of the points that was the least they merited.

Agonisingly, he fired wide. "I couldn't believe it when Schuster missed," Farrell said. "I rate him as one of the best kickers in the league."

That miss ensured that Murdock's punishment did not fit the crime. If ever there was a case of winning a match with a professional foul, this was it.

Wigan had been outplayed in the first half by a Halifax side which has had its own share of upheavals of late, but which produced some glorious support play and fingertip handling.

Dazzling ball movement from a scrum saw David Bouveng turn the ball back inside for Martin Pearson to put them ahead after 12 minutes, and when Karl Harrison - whose mighty display outshone even Farrell - combined with Paul Rowley for an attack which ended with Fereti Tuilagi going in, Halifax, with Schuster's first two goals, were in command.

"Eric Hughes gave us a good bollocking at half-time," Farrell said of the new Wigan coach's pep talk. It seemed to work, because within seven minutes Paul, who played for Wakefield the last time Central Park saw Wigan lose in the league, started a move that led to Paul Johnson touching down.

Danny Ellison's try brought Wigan to within two points and Gael Tallec put them ahead for the first time, before Asa Amone struck back.

The stage was set for a drama that will not be bettered this season. The disgruntled element among the Wigan support still chanted for the board to go, but their team still has some of its old resilience - and luck.

Wigan Warriors: Murray; Ellison, Radlinski, A Johnson, P Johnson; Paul, Murdock; O'Connor, Hall, Cowie, Holgate, Cassidy, Farrell. Substitutes used: Tallec, Haughton.

Halifax Blue Sox: Umaga; Tuilagi, Schuster, Amone, Bouveng; Pearson, Parker; Harrison, Rowley, W Jackson, M Jackson, Baldwin, Moana. Substitutes used: Gillespie, Perrett, Skerrett.

Referee: S Presley (Castleford).

Other Information

Attendance: 11,586

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