Wigan Sentimental Favourites in
Challenge Cup Final

After winning eight consecutive English Challenge Cups between 1988-95, Wigan is rarely the Cup final underdog and even more rarely the choice of neutral rugby league fans.

But its opponent in Sunday's final, St Helens, has a betting scandal hanging over it, while Wigan's well-liked coach Mike Gregory must go to the United States after the match for intensive treatment on a debilitating illness which has damaged his voice and muscles.

Former Great Britain international Gregory flies to Houston after the game at Cardiff's Millennium Stadium and his emotional players have declared they will use that as their motivation to defeat a Saints side who have lost only one game all season.

Gregory's players were only told of the news last month.

"It was a pretty emotionally-charged meeting, and one I didn't enjoy to be honest, seeing Greg in front of us and opening his heart like that, said the Wigan fullback Kris Radlinski.

"A lot of our inspiration and motivation in the game is going to be for Greg.

"He's an outstanding bloke who has so much passion.

"Winning it would aid his recovery, and that's what we intend to do."

Wigan's Kiwi and former St George Illawarra frontrower Craig Smith agrees.

"Mike Gregory, to me, is an inspiration - he lives and breathes rugby league and I know myself I take a lot of solace in what Mike has been through and still how much he wants to be part of this team," said Smith, who is one of five ex-Dragons involved at Cardiff.

His Wigan frontrow colleague is fellow Kiwi Quentin Pongia, who played one game for St George Illawarra in 2003.

Saints will field winger Darren Albert and five-eighth Jason Hooper, while their coach Ian Millward is a former Dragons' lower-grade coach.

St Helens will start as the clear favourite after recently putting 50 points on Super League leader Leeds.

Millward's team is at full strength and will look for a big game from Hooper, who has been in outstanding form this season.

Hooper was 18th man in the Dragons 1999 NRL grand final defeat by Melbourne, and says he can't wait to be involved in his first major final.

Wigan frontrower Danny Sculthorpe, and older brother, Saints skipper Paul, will become the first brothers to oppose each other in a Cup final for 54 years.

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