Richards reflects on his career... and reveals next step
Wigan officials have named next month's game against Catalans as the Big One VI, with ticket offers and promotions to try and attract a big crowd.
Had it not been for a cruel knee injury to one of their opponents, they wouldn’t need such a marketing ploy to lure in the fans.
With the French outfit struggling to crack into the top-four, the final-game of the Super 8s was shaping as Pat Richards’ last match before he hung up his boots.
Fitting, then, that he face Wigan, the club where he built his legacy by breaking points-scoring records over eight years.
“But you can’t always write the script, especially in a game like rugby league,” Richards told the Observer.
“When the fixtures came out I was looking at it and thought it would be a good to go and play at the DW again, say a few goodbyes.
“But I was struggling with the knee and I couldn’t really train, my performances were going down.
“I’d already decided not to take up the option of my second year with Catalans, and I wanted to finish the year well.
“It was unfortunate it’s ended the way it has, it’s not the fairytale, but I’ve been playing for 17 years so I’ve no complaints.”
Richards’ penultimate game was the 26-6 defeat against the Warriors last month.
In a surreal moment after the match, the Wigan players went to applaud the travelling army of fans – only for them to sing “Richards is Superman” in tribute to Catalans’ winger.
“I was talking to a couple of the boys and they were laughing about that,” said Richards. “But I’ve always had great support from the Wigan fans.”
Richards was already a Grand Final winner in the NRL with Wests, in which he scored a memorable long-range try, when he moved to Super League in 2006.
Signed by Ian Millward as a centre, he struggled to make his mark in a team which tumbled to the foot of the table.
But he helped Wigan avoid relegation in a memorable finish to the season and the following year, took on the goal-kicking duties.
Richards quickly became a fans’ favourite, slotting over a memorable drop-goal in a sensational 31-30 play-offs win at Bradford.
The following year he returned to Australia with the Ireland in the World Cup squad, and he had already re-signed with Wigan by the time Michael Maguire arrived as coach in 2010.
In that pivotal campaign, Richards became Super League’s top tryscorer (with 29), scored 38 points in a match against Catalans – the most ever by a Wigan player in a league match – and finished the year as both Man of Steel and International Winger of the Year.
He also celebrated Grand Final glory at Old Trafford, and he would later add another Super League ring, two league leaders’ shields and two Challenge Cup wins to his haul before deciding to return to old club Wests at the end of 2013.
Arguably his most impressive highlight for Wigan came in defeat – his monster drop-goal against St Helens in his final season. Just inside the opposing half, he received a scrappy pass and – under pressure – let fly with a stunning effort from just inside the touchline. It was tracked at 52 metres, just 3m shy of Joe Lydon’s world record in 1989.
“I still don’t know why I did that,” said the 34-year-old. “When you look back now, it was a crazy thing to do... but it would have been better if we’d got the win too.” Richards is third on Wigan’s goal-scoring list (900) and points list (2,468), behind Jim Sullivan and Andy Farrell.
“When I joined Wigan, my plan was to go over for two or three years - I never intended to stay for eight,” smiled Richards, who eclipsed the seven years chalked up by his former team-mate, Brett Dallas.
“But I stayed because I loved it there, and I played my best footy there. It was a big part of my life.
“I’ve no regrets about any of the decisions I’ve made.
“I’m glad I went back and had another go in the NRL, and even though on the field it didn’t work out as well as I’d hoped at Catalans, it was a great experience for my family.”
He picks out captain Sean O’Loughlin as the best player he has ever lined-up alongside, and as for his career highlight?
“Just to play so long, and play in different countries and meet so many great people,” he said. “And just the trophies. When you win something, you have that bond with those blokes.
“Whenever I see someone who was on that coach ride home from Wembley, it doesn’t matter how much times passes, you have that bond of winning the trophy together and celebrating it.”
Richards hopes to stay involved with the game, and has spoken to his old club Wests Tigers about a role as a development and kicking coach. And though he plans to settle in his native Sydney, he will be keeping a close eye on results from Wigan.
“I’ve already had a lot of nice messages from people in Wigan,” he added. “I still have a lot of good mates there, and I’ll be watching their games and following their results, for sure.”