Wigan’s game with Hull FC in Wollongong will be the fifth occasion they have played in Australia. Here are five golden memories of their previous trips Down Under.
1. In 1992, Wigan took part in the rain-lashed Sydney Sevens – and won!
Legend has it that – having lost their last 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, Manly in the semi and then 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!
2. 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 immense at full-back 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, sound-tracked by Ray Warren’s gravelly commentary: “Is he having a game or what? Jason Robinson will be the mayor of Wigan!”
He didn’t go on to become mayor, but he didn’t have a bad career.
3. And then, of course, there’s the battle of Brisbane in ‘97.
Fighting should not be condoned, but this list had to feature the clash between Gorden Tallis and Terry O’Connor which saw them both sin-binned – even though the Wigan prop had been hit four times before he retaliated!
“That was (then-coach) Eric Hughes’ fault,” O’Connor told Rugby League Week magazine last year. “I had no idea who Gorden was, but Eric said: ‘Forget everyone else, he’s the man, get into him.’
“So I found this curly-haired back-rower and I was into him, calling him names like ‘kangaroo fiddler’ and ‘convict’, and things like that (and that’s why) he picked me up and dropped me.
“I got up, played the ball, and all of sudden he unleashed four of the quickest punches I’ve ever seen!
“I managed to catch him with one, an absolute belter. Every other player rushed in.
“But the funny thing was, out of the corner of my eye I saw our winger – Andy Johnson – running in, and then he obviously saw Wendell Sailor opposite him, and Jonno turned and ran off!
“The fight ended, and we both got sin-binned. I actually said to the ref: ‘What am I getting sinbinned for, headbutting his fist?!’”
O’Connor later quipped that his wife hits harder!
The pair met again in a hotel in 2000 when Brisbane travelled to play St Helens in the World Club Challenge.
“He’s a lovely guy, a champion bloke,” said O’Connor.
4. The extended 1997 series featuring all 12 Super League teams went down in history as a disaster, due to the landslide results and ludicrous qualifying (Bradford lost all six group games and still reached the quarter-finals!).
But for Wigan, there were some highlights, including a 22-18 win in Australia against Canterbury Bulldogs.
Jason Robinson (two), Simon Haughton and Andy Johnson scored tries. Wigan – wearing arguably the worst kit in their history – had Paul Koloi and Gael Tallec on the bench. Remember them?
5. In 2014 Wigan lost 36-14 against a star-studded Roosters side boasting Sonny Bill Williams and future Warrior Frank-Paul Nuuausala (and yes, he did clash with Micky McIlorum before kick-off, the pair ‘shouldering’ into each other as they switched sides!).
But there were highlights for Wigan.
Joe Burgess announced himself on the big stage with a 44th minute try, adding to the double by Josh Charnley, and the sight of thousands of travelling Wiganers and ex-pats at the game, and in Sydney before, it was wonderful.