MICHAEL Maguire’s Wembley stars received the heroes’ welcome they deserved when they arrived back in Wigan.
Nearly 24 hours after beating Leeds 28-18 to win the Challenge Cup Final, hundreds of fans turned out to greet them for an emotional DW Stadium homecoming.
And coach Maguire saluted the followers for their support during the game, and for their turnout yesterday, saying: “Everyone really appreciates it – we hope you had a good night.”
Nursing hangovers from their Wembley celebrations, the Warriors arrived at Marus Bridge around 4.30pm yesterday – more than an hour later than scheduled, due to an M6 accident – and switched from their coach on to an open-top bus.
Scores of fans turned out to congratulate them.
Kiwi prop Jeff Lima, the Lance Todd Trophy winner for two vital tries, and many more unforgiving hits, guarded the Challenge Cup silverware. The Kiwi prop sported a new Mr T-style mohican, and responded to chants of ‘Li-ma, Li-ma’ with some dance moves.
Many more fans lined the route down the A49, and along Robin Park Road and Scot Lane. But most of the supporters had gathered at the DW Stadium, packing outside the West Stand’s main reception, and greeting the bus with spontaneous, loud applause.
The players lapped up the euphoric scenes, passing the trophy among themselves against a backdrop of cherry and white.
They then filed off the bus and into the stadium and – after a few minutes to allow more supporters into the ground take their seats – were introduced on to the pitch to the soundtrack of Tina Turner’s Simply The Best.
Captain Sean O’Loughlin and coach Maguire addressed the fans, thanking them for their support. Sam Tomkins received his trademark mock boos when he took the microphone, while Aussie forward Ryan Hoffman said: “Wigan’s a great rugby league town, and the Challenge Cup means a lot to you.”
The stars then spent several minutes lapping the stadium, signing autographs and posing for pictures, before eventually, seemingly reluctantly, disappearing inside to continue the celebrations.