OCTOBER 24, 1998. About an hour after Wigan had beaten Leeds by 10-4 in the inaugural Grand Final, Kris Radlinski noticed a fan near their team coach, and went to shake his hand.
Fast forward 17 years, to the next Grand Final showdown between these two clubs, and the former Warriors full-back is now the rugby manager and a director of his hometown club.
And the fan?
He just happens to be Radlinski’s boss.
“I was walking around Old Trafford afterwards as a groupie, looking for players, and stopped at the Wigan coach,” recalls chairman Ian Lenagan.
“Kris Radlinski and a couple others came off the coach, and I remember shaking their hands and saying how happy they’d made me as a fan.”
We aren’t particularly friendly – we are mutually-respectfulIan Lenagan
Lenagan took control of his hometown club
eight years ago, and since 2010, Wigan have enjoyed a period of sustained success.
The decision to bring in Michael Maguire ended their trophy drought, with Grand Final and Challenge Cup victories in successive seasons.
And Shaun Wane has managed to maintain that impressive run, despite a heavy turnover of players.
His maiden season in charge saw the Warriors storm to a League Leaders’ Shield success and, despite missing out on both finals, they more than made amends with a trophy double in 2013.
That was followed by a Grand Final appearance last year and, tonight, they will feature in their third successive title decider at Old Trafford.
“I think many feel this is the right game, and the way the tickets have gone so quickly shows there’s a general interest in Wigan-Leeds,” said Lenagan, who praised Wane for his key role.
“Shaun has done well, his record is very good.
“I think the League Leaders’ could have been ours this year and last year, too, but the start to the season lets us down.
“We know the reasons for that – we have so many international players, who can’t get the rest they should have before pre-season. We’re studying and thinking about how to address that.
“And what’s doubly difficult is we have the World Club Series now so
you have to have them in that, it’s too important to miss.”
Lenagan worked closely with Leeds CEO Gary Hetherington to get the three-game WCS off the ground this year.
“We’re great rivals and some of that has spread a bit – we’d love to beat them and knock them off their well-earned perch,” he added.
“But I lived in Leeds for five years and you have to have a high degree of respect for the way they run the club.
“We believe in doing things the right way and playing with style, and I think Leeds are the same.
“We aren’t particularly friendly – we are mutually-respectful.”