From the wonderful to the wacky, a 10 point history of Wigan’s history against Australian clubs...
1. The atmosphere crackled as 37,000 fans – some are convinced there were more – packed Central Park for the epic contest between Wigan and Manly in 1987.
An England and Australian outfit hadn’t clashed since St Helens and Eastern Suburbs (now Sydney Roosters) had met in 1976, but Wigan’s match against Manly was such a success it led to the launch of the first ‘official’ World Club Challenge two years later.
Wigan’s victorious team was entirely English (Dean Bell was injured, and fellow Kiwi Graeme West was an unused substitute) and, more surprisingly, there were no tries scored.
All of Wigan’s eight points came from the boot of David Stephenson.
2. Current Warriors coach Shaun Wane won the man of the match prize for tearing into the forwards in the 8-2 epic – one of the proudest moments of his career.
And he later revealed how team-mate Joe Lydon had helped rev’ him up for the biggest game of his life.
“Joe told me that Ronnie Gibbs had been calling me a soft so-and-so, so I went at him,” said Wane.
“ It was only afterwards Joe told me he’d made it up. And then I found out Gibbs was a golden glove champion in Australia!
“Joe certainly got me there!”
With that in mind, there was a sense of poetic justice to the fact Gibbs was sent off for elbowing Lydon early in the second-half... but not before Wane had got stuck into the Manly forward nicknamed ‘Rambo’!
3. The highlight of the 1991 WCC between Wigan and Penrith – staged at Liverpool’s Anfield – was a long-range try from the late David Myers, who supported a Shaun Edwards break to seal the 21-4 victory.
4. It’s not all been about the World Club Challenge. in 1992, Wigan took part in the Sydney Sevens - and won. The rain-lashed conditions may have suited the touring side. Legend has it that, having lost a group match, the players sloped off for a beer presuming they hadn’t progressed – only to discover they had gone through under the “most tries scored” rule.
They went onto beat Penrith in the quarters, Denis Betts scored an extra-time winner against Manly in the semi and then they overcame Brisbane in the final – with Martin Offiah scoring four tries.
That haul took his tally to six in the competition, securing him the Man of the Series award... although it is some of the Australian commentary which sticks in the memory, including “Offiah showed more toe than a Roman sandal” and the reference to Andy Gregory’s milk-bottle legs!
5. Wigan were back in World Club action later that year, and back at Central Park, for the visit of Brisbane.
They lost 22-8, in a game which featured Andre Stoop playing at full-back for only his second appearance. The Broncos side featured future Warriors Steve Renouf and Julian O’Neill and was coached by Wayne Bennett, who will be in the opposition corner this Saturday.
6. Ah, 1994, and the stunning 20-14 victory in Brisbane – one of Wigan’s greatest ever triumphs. The memories start with the build-up, the loss of Dean Bell, Andy Platt and Kelvin Skerrett, the promotion of Graeme West to head coach, the stories of Wigan having no chance, the tales of players being given time off to party on the Gold Coast in the build-up. As for the game itself, there were some towering performances – Denis Betts did well to ground his try, Gary Connolly was strong at full-back, Barrie Jon Mather scored a fine try and Shaun Edwards produced a phenomenal effort.
And one of the stand-outs was the sight of a 19-year-old Jason Robinson scoring a stunning solo try, soundtracked by Ray Warren’s gravelly commentary: “Is he having a game or what?! Jason Robinson! He’ll be the mayor of Wigan!”
He didn’t go on to become mayor - but he didn’t have a bad career.
7. The 1997 series featuring all 12 teams went down in history as a disaster, due to the landslide results. But for Wigan, there were some highlights, including a home and a way double against Canterbury Bulldogs (Paul Koloi and Gael Tallic were on the bench in Australia), wearing one of the worst kits in the club’s history... and let’s not forget the real battle of Brisbane. Tallis, O’Connor, haymakers galore. They don’t do fights like that any more.
8. The World Club Challenge was mothballed after ‘97, meaning Wigan didn’t get to play Australian opposition following their inaugural Grand Final win in 1998. Thankfully, it was soon restored to the rugby league calendar but – of course – Wigan had to wait until 2010 before they celebrated another championship win, under the leadership of Michael Maguire.
The reward for that victory was a WCC date with St George Illawarra in February 2011. George Carmont scored two tries in a breathtaking 21-15 defeat.
9. In 2014 Wigan lost 36-14 and Shaun Wane lamented the fact they didn’t give a good account of themselves, against a star-studded Roosters side boasting Sonny Bill Williams. Joe Burgess – now at the Sydney club – announced himself on the big stage with a 44th minute try, adding to the double by Josh Charnley. Yet despite the result, the game is still remembered fondly by the thousands of Wiganers and ex-pats who attended the game – the first World Club Challenge on Australian soil in two decades.
10. Joe Burgess’ late, long-range try saw Wigan draw level after 80 minutes and sent the game against Brisbane in the new World Club Series into golden-point.
The sides traded blows in the mud but, with so much talent on the field, it was a soft call by the referee for a ‘strip’ which proved decisive.
Even then, the drama wasn’t over.
As Corey Parker struck the penalty, Anthony Gelling charged down his attempt, and walked off the pitch before the yellow card could be brandished! Parker subsequently kicked the resulting penalty to win the game.