Wigan Warriors: The 18th man contributors pick out their favourite matches from throughout their time supporting the club
Narrowing down nearly forty years of Wigan matches to just three is a pretty tough ask.
There have been countless cup finals, derby wins, last minute victories and the odd agonising loss on the way, but these are the three that have brought me the most pleasure:
Wigan 27 – St Helens 0- The famous 1989 Challenge Cup whitewash of our bitter rivals. Wigan’s performance that day was close to perfection. A team of cherry and white legends, with the likes of Edwards, Gregory, Hanley, Lydon and Iro at the peak of their powers.
As good as our team was back then there’s always a slight doubt when you play St Helens, who had flown in Aussie superstars Michael O’Connor and Paul Vautin just for the final.
Wigan, however, dominated from start to finish. In any other game Hanley’s famous try, sauntering past six Saints players, would be the pinnacle.
For me though the icing on the cake was Lydon putting Steve Hampson over for the final try. Luckless Hampo had missed three previous finals with broken bones, and the look of joy on his face to round off the thrashing will stay with me forever.
Brisbane 14 – Wigan 20- It wasn’t often in the early nineties that Wigan were underdogs, but we suffered a convincing defeat to Brisbane in Wigan two years earlier so this was definitely the case.
Having lost Andy Platt to the New Zealand Warriors and Kelvin Skerrett to a broken jaw at the hands, well, elbows, of Dean Sampson, we most certainly were expected to lose heavily to a Brisbane side brimming with internationals.
Whether they underestimated us I'm not sure, but we blew them away and silenced the crowd early on. Denis Betts’ try is one of the craziest I have seen with a gravity defying put down whilst flying past the ball at full speed.
Further tries from Barrie-Jon Mather and Jason Robinson gave Wigan a handy lead and despite the inevitable comeback from Brisbane, some of the toughest defence I have ever seen saw Wigan home.
Billy McGinty in particular impressed with a relentless performance and Wigan left Australia with a new found respect and prize money of $400,000.
Wigan 20 – Bradford 19- The atmosphere at this game in the second half was one of the best I’ve ever witnessed.
Wigan were trailing 19-2 with half an hour remaining but tries from Newton and Betts narrowed the gap, but try as they might though, they couldn’t make the final breakthrough.
The clock ticked into the last fifteen seconds of the game, the ball was thrown out wide by Farrell and Steve Renouf made a break from distance, racing nearly 70 metres down field, drawing the fullback and popping the ball up for the ever supporting Radlinski to score.
The stadium erupted, you’d have thought we’d won a Grand Final, then it dawned on everyone, Andy Farrell still needed to kick the conversion only ten yards in from touch.
Being Andy Farrell, of course he did. Absolute pandemonium in the stands, and Matthew Elliott launching his headset with frustration, perfect.
As a supporter for many years with lots of great performances at face value, to choOse the top three games should be quite hard however, for me it’s pretty straight forward.
Wigan 28-24- Hull FC- At number one it has to be the 1985 Challenge Cup against Hull. We hadn’t won the cup for 20 years and the previous year we were soundly beaten by a far superior Widnes team.
In 1985 we had significantly improved the team with Kenny and Ferguson but even so, Hull were a top class team with equally world class players in Sterling and a young Schofield.
If I remember correctly it was quite a warm dry day. Perfect conditions for a classic game of rugby league.
We travelled by train from Wigan North Western, I’d never seen as many people in and around the station and I haven’t since. The atmosphere was brilliant. Lots of beer, pies and good humoured singing.
I wasn’t overly confident of a win but when I learned that Schofield was starting on the bench my confidence in a win increased significantly.
The game itself was brilliant. It had everything. Long distance tries, a sheer piece of magic by Ferguson for his first try and a great fightback from a game Hull team.
I have watched the game countless times since and I still get great pleasure in watching a great match between two really top class teams.
Wigan 8-2 Manly- A very close number two was the first ever World Club Challenge game versus Manly at a packed Central Park.
It was the first and last time where opposing fans were roaring Wigan on to beat the cocky Aussies. I remember speaking to fans from Widnes, Halifax and Wakefield and they all wanted us to win.
The atmosphere generated by the capacity crowd to this day in my opinion has never been bettered at a Wigan game. The ongoing battles throughout the game literally kept the electric atmosphere going for the full 80 minutes.
One of the rare occasions where the lack of tries in the game was of no detriment to the overall spectacle of the game.
For me a special mention of the 15 British guys representing Wigan goes to Shaun Wane.
That night I think Shaun would quite literally have died for the cause. He never took a backward step all night and fought himself for me into giving one of the most memorable performances ever by a Wigan player.
To cap it off after the game he thanked the Aussies for the warm up game as I think we had Warrington at the weekend after the mid game against Manly. Brilliant, just brilliant.
Brisbane 14-20 Wigan- The third game was the win again in the World Club Challenge away at Brisbane Broncos. We had both of our starting props missing and at the time Brisbane were regarded as the best club team in the world.
We watched the game in the Jawbone. A liquid breakfast after a full English starter.
A few of the guys on the shop floor where I worked actually went to the game, which in hindsight was a great call by them and a missed once in a lifetime opportunity on my part.
With the missing players and the reputation of the Brisbane team, I actually expected a bit of a drubbing but we played some superb rugby and very deservedly beat an ultra-confident team who I think grossly underestimated the quality of the Wigan side.
No British team has ever repeated Wigan’s memorable victory and it wouldn’t surprise me if this is not repeated again for another 30 years or so.
I must admit that the brief for this week's ramblings have me beat somewhat. I have been thinking long and hard about which three favourite games I would choose and why, but I am not here to write a book and it would probably fill one in no time.
Instead I have been reminiscing about some favourite moments which have occurred over the years.
A 27- 0 final win against the old enemy got me thinking just how many of the thoughts would be connected to the beating down of the red vee and their followers, and although inevitably some were, there were not as many as I would have thought.
Did I mention a 27 to nil victory in the Challenge Cup, I cannot remember smiling so much for a long time and the chance to remind the odd Saints fan of the style and splendour of our victory that day never quite loses appeal.
But I remember some of the older grounds with great fondness. Our first trip over to the Boulevard to see us play a feisty Hull FC team.
A rough ground with a rather loud and passionate Hull lot crammed into the halfpenny stand.
Whilst we stood and enjoyed a chat at half time with a sandwich, we did not notice that all the shirts around us had changed colour.
As the teams came out, I shouted at the top of my lungs, “come on Wigan.”
Silence broke out all around me and this old chap leaned sideways and said - “I think you should be at that end lad.”
Of course everyone had swapped ends except me and Glenda.
Another special match was our first trip to the new Wembley Stadium. It felt like a whole new experience but surrounded by the ghosts of cheers and years gone by.
Sitting on the new little bridge outside the ground, eating a sandwich and then going in early to watch the pre-game schools match, slowly feeling the atmosphere build until the crescendo at kick off.
One of my favourite moments however, came after the match, a full day after to be honest.
Wigan Warriors arrived back after a victory in the Cup in 2011, our first since Murrayfield nine years previous.
We were late getting into town and so only managed to get a spot on Market street right at the end of the barrier.
We saw the open top bus glide up the main street and waved as best we could, but then the bus turned down and stopped with its door right in front of me.
So as the players and staff got off, I congratulated and shook hands with every last one of them including a beaming Mr. Lenagan, like I was the Lord Mayor himself.
So as you see, individual games come to mind but experiences and moments make the biggest impression. Perhaps I could write that book after all.
My top three Wigan games are:
Bradford 30 - 31 Wigan, 2007 playoffs- By half time it was 30 - 0 and it was another year of mediocre five drives and a kick albeit with some Trent Barrett magic thrown in.
At the 50 minute mark Steve McNamara took off Newton and Solomona for the next game and Trent Barrett and Mark Calderwood produced the comeback culminating in a Pat Richards drop goal.
Being there was brilliant and one of the best atmospheres I've experienced at a game because with every try was a little bit more of 'hang on, hang on, we're catching them up' and tentative celebrations led to wild celebrations.
Wigan V St Helens, Grand Final 2010- After years of being trophyless beating Saints in a Grand Final and being there was brilliant.
In 2000 or 2001 I was tricked by my mates into going to the Knowsley Road club shop. When we got there was a homecoming trophy parade. To beat Saints in the final was magnificent, after having them rubbing their trophies in our faces for 10-15 years.
St Helens v Wigan, Challenge Cup semi-final at Warrington 2011- It was a changing of the guard, from 1996 when the guard changed in favour of Saints, it was great to finally start beating them when it mattered.
Josh Charnley was fantastic that day and it was the first Challenge Cup final we'd been to since 2004 when Saints beat us.
The singing that went on long after the game in the stands and it was again one of the best atmospheres I've witnessed, nobody wanted to leave the stadium.