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  Saturday, 13 April, 2002, 16:50 GMT 17:50 UK
Battling Warriors edge past Tigers
Julian O'Neill of Wigan battles with Waine Pryce of Castleford
Waine Pryce (right) had a great game for Castleford
Wigan 20-10 Castleford

Wigan reached their first Challenge Cup final since 1998, but were pushed all the way by a spirited Castleford side.

The margin of victory was cruel on the Tigers, whose full-blooded performance was worthy of greater reward.

But the Warriors emerged victorious thanks to their clinical finishing.

It was epitomised by Gary Connolly's 74th-minute score, which saw him squirm through the smallest of gaps to touch down and seal victory.


That's the most important try I have scored in a long time
Gary Connolly
It was one of only a handful of genuine opportunities for Wigan in the second half, but it ensured that coach Stuart Raper had a happy reunion with his former club.

After the match, Connolly admitted it had been a nerve-racking afternoon.

"That's the most important try I have scored in a long time," he said.

"We have had two defeats and all the players and fans were very upset, but I think this win should make up for it.

"Castleford are a very tough team. All credit to them."

Wrong-footed

The Warriors started well, and looked to be coasting as they cruised into an 8-0 lead after eight minutes, following a try by Terry Newton.

But Castleford stormed back with a converted try from man-of-the-match Michael Smith, who completely wrong-footed the Wigan defence after a clever pass from Danny Orr.

That score inspired the Tigers, and it was no surprise that they took the lead through Ryan Hudson following another good pass from Orr.

Terry OConnor of Wigan battles with Dean Sampson
Terry O'Connor tries to break through
But although the Tigers enjoyed the better of the exchanges after that, their hopes of a half-time lead were scuppered by a 34th-minute breakaway try from the impeccable Brett Dallas.

Andy Farrell converted to put Wigan 14-10 ahead.

Where the first half was open, the second was tense - but equally engrossing. Yet there were no further scores until the 76th minute.

And Castleford, who had pressed Wigan for much of the second period with no result, were to pay the price for their failure to cross.

A handling error presented possession to Wigan 10 metres from the Tigers' line, and after a spell of sustained pressure, Connolly reached through a small gap to touch down.

As soon as the video refereeconfirmed the score, the Wigan fans erupted and the Warriors enjoyed that familiar wnning feeling in a Challenge Cup semi-final once again.


Wigan: Kris Radlinski, Brian Carney, Gary Connolly, David Hodgson, Brett Dallas, Julian O'Neill, Adrian Lam, Terry O'Connor, Terry Newton, Craig Smith, Simon Haughton, Mick Cassidy, Andy Farrell. Replacements: Stephen Wild, Harvey Howard, Ricky Bibey, Mark Smith.

Castleford: Richard Gay, Waine Pryce, Michael Eagar, Andy Johnson, Darren Rogers, Danny Orr, Mitch Healey, Nathan Sykes, Wayne Bartrim, Dean Sampson, Michael Smith, Dale Fritz, Ryan Hudson. Replacements: Wayne Godwin, Kyle Warren, Mark Lennon, Andy Lynch.

Referee: Stuart Cummings (Widnes).

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 ON THIS STORY
BBC Sport's Dave Woods
"Wigan were tested to the limit"
Wigan coach Stuart Raper
"We showed passion and class to get us through"
Wigan's Gary Connolly
"We've given the fans something to cheer"
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