DARRELL Goulding can vividly remember the last time he watched the Sydney Roosters - he was cheering for them!
The morning after Wigan’s Grand Final victory over Warrington, the squad gathered to watch the NRL decider to see who they would be facing in the World Club Challenge.
And as they nursed their hangovers – and plotted another day of celebration – they were all united in their support for the team they will come up against this Saturday.
Goulding explained: “It was a strange one, because beforehand we heard a rumour that if Manly won the Grand Final, they wanted to fly to England for the World Club, like the rest of the teams have done.
“But if the Roosters won, they were happy to stage it.
“So we all watched the Grand Final together on our Mad Monday, and all the lads were cheering for the Roosters! It’s a great chance for us.”
These are not uncharted waters for the Wigan club.
At the height of their success, they flew to Australia at the end of their season to take on Brisbane in the 1994 World Club Challenge.
Few gave them a chance. But against all odds, in front of 50,000 Broncos fans, they pulled off a victory which is still talked about two decades later.
“I was born in ‘88, so I don’t rememeber the game too well,” said Goulding. “I remember the fuss more than anything – everyone looking forward to it, and then talking about them afterwards.
“It was a huge deal.
You look at the Brisbane team they beat, and they were legends. The fact it’s still talked about now, just shows what a big win it was, because Wigan won so many finals back then but that’s the one that’s talked about as the best.
“It shows what can be achieved.”
A former St Patrick’s junior, Goulding broke into the first-team as a teenager at a time when relegation dominated fans’ minds.
He’s only 25, but remarkably this is his 10th season in the first-team, and he is the club’s longest-serving player behind captain Sean O’Loughlin.
Remarkable, because it has only been in the last two of those 10 years that Goulding has felt truly comfortable with his role in the side.
He served his early years as a back-up option, and when Brian Noble farmed him out to Salford on loan, he thought his days at his hometown club were numbered.
But Michael Maguire’s arrival as coach threw him a lifeline and, after injuries to Australian backs Amos Roberts and Cameron Phelps, he played an astonishing role in their Grand Final march – from the unlikely position of winger.
He scored 29 tries in 26 matches, including a touchdown in the Old Trafford final against St Helens, and did enough to earn a place in England’s squad for the Four Nations tournament Down Under at the end of the year.
After the competition, he stayed on for a few days to explore Sydney as a tourist.
“Loved it,” he said. “It’s a fantastic place. There’s so much going on, you’re in the city, but there are great beaches as well. It’s a great spot.”
Just a few months after winning a Grand Final and representing England, he yo-yoed out of the frame.
Josh Charnley’s emergence as a bright wing talent, and Joel Tomkins’ switch from second row to centre, limited Goulding’s chances, and he watched them beat Leeds in the Challenge Cup Final from the stands, with other non-playing members of the squad. Not for the first time, he wondered what role he had to play.
But Shaun Wane stepped in as Maguire’s successor and – with Tomkins crossing the rugby codes divide – he was able to nail down the regular centre spot he had always craved.
“Back then I was on the wing, but I was never a winger,” he said. “After 2011, I wasn’t sure what was going on – whether I’d go out on loan again or what.
“But Waney got me in early on for a chat and said, ‘You were always a centre for me in the Under-21s, I want you playing centre’.
“There was no promise of a spot, he’d never do that, but he showed he had faith in me and it gave me that bit of confidence to know that if I played well, I’d have a chance, and that’s what’s happened.
“It’s taken me a while to nail it down.”
In the past two seasons, Goulding’s form has been sterling. In a backline which boasted Pat Richards, Sam Tomkins and Josh Charnley, he was an unsung hero - which probably suits him perfectly.
Goulding is not on Facebook. Not on Twitter. He doesn’t seek adulation, and he’s happy for others to take the spotlight. But anyone who has cheered the 79 tries Charnley has scored for Wigan in the past two seasons knows that Goulding deserves some of the praise.
His strong defence, unselfish distribution and the most valued commodity of them all - consistency - suggests he has a huge role to play in Saturday’s World Club Challenge showdown.
Not for the first time, Wigan will be written off by some and Goulding is smart enough to recognise that on paper, the Sydney Roosters have a squad packed with internationals.
“Some teams have better individuals,” he reckons. “But our strength comes from the team strength, and the structures we have.”
Wigan will need those structures to be operating at their best if they are to pull off a victory which would surely rank alongside the 1994 triumph in Brisbane. And Goulding is well aware of the implications of a victory.
“With the nature of the game now, there’s a big thing about how much better the NRL is,” he added. “So this is is a good challenge for us.
“If we can do something special it would be a massive lift for Super League.”