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Wigan face back to the wall Bulls

It is difficult to contemplate Bradford's chances in this game without taking into account the tumultuous off-field events at Odsal.
Wigan face back to the wall Bulls
by NRL

It is difficult to contemplate Bradford's chances in this game without taking into account the tumultuous off-field events at Odsal. Everyone knows that the Bulls have now entered administration, but how much this will impact on the players is anyone's guess. In general, it could go one of two ways: either have a crushing impact on morale, or create a mentality wherein each Bradford player will look to market himself by performing at his absolute best.

Last week, Bradford coach Mick Potter was impressed by his team's backs-to-the-wall attitude, when they toughed out a vital victory against Yorkshire rivals Wakefield Trinity Wildcats by 34-26, despite being reduced to 12 men and having to come from behind.

After the game, Potter commented: "We're getting a few results and there's nothing we can do about the situation. All we can do is keep getting on with what we are paid to do, which is doing our best out on the field. I'm more than happy that we got two points today."

But conventional wisdom holds that this kind of defiance cannot go on indefinitely when events are beyond the players' control, especially with a fear of liquidation hanging over the club, though of course every individual will still want to show himself in the best possible light if he's looking for a job elsewhere.

And it's not as if Bradford haven't got the men to trouble Wigan. In the backs, 6ft4in centre Keith Lulia is a real powerhouse, while stand-off Luke Gale has sufficient skills to menace any opponents, especially those whose normal pattern is likely to have been disrupted by the loss of a key player like Tommy Leuluai. But it is in the forwards where the Bulls' real strength lies: Nick Scruton, Craig Kopczak, Olivier Elima, Jamie Langley and youngsters Elliott Whitehead and John Bateman are all big, fierce competitors whose presence in the Bradford side surely belies the club's current mid-table position.

Wigan will still be under-strength when they face them. The absence of Tommy Leuluai may be something the Warriors are going to have to live with for the time being, but it has left a massive hole in the middle of the team. And despite Sean O'Loughlin's generally strong performance in the halves last Monday night against Widnes, Bradford will prove to be a sterner test.

Wigan are also having to cope with a quick turn-around. When Super League embraced the Monday night TV slot, it was always apparent that some clubs would occasionally be faced with the prospect of having to play two games in five days. Wigan are probably glad that this double-test of their durability hasn't pitted them against table-topping opposition, and that both fixtures are at home, but nevertheless they will need to back up quickly and strongly.

Present form suggests that those Cherry and Whites most likely to damage Bradford's hopes on Friday night are points machine Josh Charnley, who is emerging as a real star of the game this season, his centre Darrell Goulding, who has formed a devastating partnership with him, Brett Finch, who, even though his playing future is uncertain, is still the ringmaster at the heart of everything Wigan do, and Michael McIlorum, who on present form is surely one of the best, most competitive hookers in the competition. Evergreen George Carmont was also in rip-roaring form against Widnes; it's unlikely the Bulls' flyers will have encountered as tough-a-tackling centre anywhere else in Super League this season.

All will have tired legs for sure, which will even things out a little, but these men are currently giving Rugby League lessons to everyone they meet in their own sectors of the pitch, and anyone not meeting them in the best frame of mind ? i.e. because they are distracted by off-field issues ? could come badly unstuck.

From a Wigan POV, of course, it is still all to play for. Both Warrington and Catalan won last weekend, cementing themselves into second and third in the Stobart Super League table. The chase for the top spot is not by any means over, and Shaun Wane and the Wigan players will be determined to stay ahead of the field.

In addition to Bradford's well-publicised woes, this should just be sufficient motivation to tip the scales in favour of the home side.

Tickets for the Heritage Day game against Bradford Bulls on Friday are still on sale via the DW Stadium Ticket Office, online at Warriors E-Tickets and by calling 0871 66-33-552 (calls cost 10p per minute from a BT landline, call costs from other operators may vary).

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