Tonight’s Challenge Cup semi-final will be Wigan coach Shaun Wane’s fifth as a player, assistant coach and coach.
In the 31 years since Wane appeared in the 1985 semi-final win over Hull KR, Wigan have won the Cup 12 times, turning an already strong affiliation with the competition into legend.
In the years that followed the now head coach’s sole semi-final appearance, Wigan and Wembley became an annual fixture which was almost taken for granted, illustrated by the fact if you go into any loft between Billinge and Horwich you will find a Cherry and White Cup scarf with a year between 1985 and 1998 printed on it.
But that hasn’t diluted the Cup’s appeal in this area of the country, despite tumbling attendances in rounds before the final across the whole competition fuelling debate about the Cup’s place in rugby league’s landscape today. The Challenge Cup is special to Wane in the same way it is for most people from Wigan. And tomorrow night, if he can guide his players to a win over a Hull club still searching for a first win at Wembley, he will have the chance to bring the Cup back to the town for a record-extending 20th time.
Wane loves the Cup, and said: “The affinity Wigan has with the competition is unique. This Friday we’ll be giving it our best shot.”
Here is a look at Wane’s four previous Challenge Cup semi-finals.
The affinity Wigan has with the competition is unique. This Friday we’ll be giving it our best shotShaun Wane
Hull KR 11 Wigan 18
Elland Road, Leeds
An offload from Shaun Wane to winger Brian Juliff put Wigan in front against that season’s champions – and the YouTube video is well worth a watch, it was a cracking pass.
David Stephenson scored another try as Wigan held on to a 12-11 lead late in the game until Henderson Gill crashed over with four minutes left to seal the win.
No one will need reminding that Wigan went on the beat Hull FC 28-24 in that year’s Final, still regarded by many as the best Final of all time.
Wane missed the Final, but did appear at Wembley in 1988 when Wigan beat Halifax in the first of their eight wins in a row between 1988 and 1995. Wane missed the semi-final win over Salford that year.
On the ‘84 game, Wane told the Observer: “I love the Challenge Cup and those are fantastic memories. I didn’t score many but it meant a lot for me to set-up that try.”
Wigan: Shaun Edwards, Brian Juliff, David Stephenson, Steve Donlan, Henderson Gill, Brett Kenny, Mike Ford, Neil Courtney, Nicky Kiss, Brian Case, Graeme West, Shaun Wane, Ian Potter
Hull KR: Fairburn, Clark, Robinson, Prohm, Lydiat, Smith, Harkin, Broadhurst, Watkinson, Ema, Hogan, Kelly, Miller
Assistant coach: 2011
Wigan Warriors 18 St Helens 12
HJ Stadium, Warrington
Wane was named new coach Michael Maguire’s assistant for the 2010 season, and despite a high hopes in the Cup during what turned-out to be a league title-winning campaign, Leeds edged a cagey quarter-final.
The following year, Wigan met their arch-rivals in the semi-final at Warrington’s HJ Stadium.
With Saints leading 2-0, a blistering break from Josh Charnley after 34 minutes laid the platform for George Carmont to score and give Wigan a 6-2 lead at the break.
Second-half tries from Charnley and Sam Tomkins cancelled-out two Jamie Foster efforts to put Wigan in their first Cup Final since 2004. And even longer wait to lift the trophy was ended at Wembley, with Wigan beating Leeds 28-18.
Wigan Warriors: Sam Tomkins, Josh Charnley, Joel Tomkins, George Carmont, Pat Richards, Brett Finch, Paul Deacon, Jeff Lima, Tommy Leuluai, Andy Coley, Harrison Hansen, Ryan Hoffman, Sean O’Loughlin
Subs: Mike McIlorum, Lee Mossop, Liam Farrell, Ben Cross
Head coach: 2012
Leeds Rhinos 39
Wigan Warriors 28
John Smith’s Stadium, Huddersfield
Wane’s first semi-final as a head coach couldn’t have started much worse.
At Hudderfield’s John Smith’s Stadium, the Rhinos raced into a 16-0 lead in the first 10 minutes with tries from Ryan Hall, Ben Jones-Bishop and Zak Hardaker.
George Carmont and Gareth Hock scored tries to bring Wigan back within four points over the next 12 minutes but Leeds replied with three more tries from Hall, Jones-Bishop and Ryan Bailey to lead 30-12.
The high-scoring nature of the first half was completed with a Ben Flower try and two Tomkins goals to give Wigan hope at 30-20 at the break.
But Hardaker’s second put the result beyond doubt with half an hour to go and scores from Sean O’Loughlin and Josh Charnley weren’t enough to play catch-up.
The coaches had contrasting appraisals of Wigan’s performance after the game.
Wane lamented his team’s ‘worst performance’ while his opposite number Brian McDermott said: “They were white hot last time we played and I don’t think they were far off today.”
But Wane said: “The bad start didn’t help but we made too many errors throughout the game. A few in the first half were uncharacteristic. I said before the game the team that completes best would win and that’s what happened. It was our worst performance.”
Leeds Rhinos: Zak hardaker, Ben Jones-Bishop, Kallum Watkins, Karl Ablett, Ryan Hall, Kevin Sinfield, Danny McGuire, Kylie Leuluai, Rob Burrow, Jamie Peacock, Jamie Jones-Buchanan, Brett Delaney, Ryan Bailey
Subs: Ian Kirke, Daryl Griffin, Stevie Ward, Shaun Lunt
Wigan Warriors: Sam Tomkins, Josh Charnley Darrell Goulding, George Carmont, Anthony Gelling, Sean O’Loughlin, Brett Finch, Jeff Lima, Mike McIlorum, Lee Mossop, Harrison Hansen, Gareth Hock, Chris Tuson
Subs: Liam Farrell, Epalahame Lauaki, Ben Flower, Jack Hughes
Wigan Warriors 70 London Broncos 0
Leigh Sports Village
The route to the Final couldn’t have been any easier for Wane’s men on their way to a Super League and Challenge Cup double in 2013.
It took nearly 10 minutes for Darrell Goulding to open the scoring but the contest was over well before half-time with Wigan leading 34-0 at the break.
There were 10 different try-scorers as Pat Richards and Josh Charnley claimed doubles.
Lee Mossop, Sam Tomkins, Blake Green, Scott Taylor, Matty Smith, Liam Farrell and Iain Thornley added further scores.
After the game, Wane said: “I’m ecstatic. I’m really pleased for the players that we’ve got to Wembley, especially after last year’s disappointment. I can’t tell you how proud I am.”
Wigan went on to beat Hull FC 16-0 in the Final.
Wigan Warriors: Sam Tomkins, Josh Charnley, Darrell Goulding, Iain Thornley, Pat Richards, Blake Green, Matty Smith, Gil Dudson, Mike McIlorum, Lee Mossop, Harrison Hansen, Liam Farrell, Sean O’Loughlin
Subs: Ben Flower, Chris Tuson, Scott Taylor, Logan Tomkins
London Broncos: Luke Dorn, Liam Colbon, Michael Robertson, Rhodri Lloyd, Dan Sarginson, Jamie O’Callaghan, Jamie Soward, Matt Cook, Tommy Lee, Mark Bryant, Shane Rodney, Antonio Kaufusi, Jacob Fairbank
Subs: Scott Wheeldon, Olsi Krasniqi, Mike McMeekan, Ben Fisher