The Grand Final is a good event but it doesn't
compete with the cup final voyage to Wembley. Yes the new Wembley
is expensive, the surrounding area is pretty grim and getting off
the coaches car park is a bloody nightmare but I love the fact the
whole town debarks en mass, all wearing cherry and white to cheer
It was nice to stand on Wembley way
pre match and being able to enjoy a pint with no fuss from the
police. Shirts of every club possibly were being worn and
absolutely no trouble was being caused. It makes you proud to
follow this sport of Rugby League. This wasn't my first trip to
Wembley. I'd been to the cup final the previous year when
Warrington beat Leeds but nothing beats your own team playing in
After a rousing rendition of "Abide by Me"
and the National Anthem by Rhydian Roberts. It was time for the
match to get underway. Wigan received the kick off and found an early
break with Brett Finch sending Ryan Hoffman clear on the fourth
tackle. Brent Webb did well to halt Hoffman before his team-mates
just about managed to defend a good last tackle kick to the right
Leeds didn't get far on their first possession
and it was clear Wigan were settling the better. Our second
possession was helped by receiving a penalty and a scrum following
an attempted interception knock on from Ben Jones-Bishop. Sam
Tomkins went close to dancing over from close range but the last
tackle kick proved disappointing.
Six minutes had now passed and Leeds had done
well with a kick that pinned Sam Tomkins close to his own posts
but Wigan were making excellent metres in the forwards. Leeds were
struggling and this was shown when good last tackle pressure from
Harrison Hansen forced Danny McGuire to kick out on the full.
This gave Wigan the ball in the Leeds half and the territory
domination they had enjoyed, just had to turn into points on 9
minutes. Good hands saw Wigan swing the ball from right to left
with Finch, Leuluai, Sam Tomkins, Joel Tomkins all involved to
send Josh Charnley over for the score. The effort took some
scoring but Baby Josh beautifully stepped inside to beat McGuire.
Pat Richards couldn't convert off the touchline but Wigan were
happy with a deserved 4-0 lead.
Next attack saw Wigan break clear again. Finch
was again the architect with a half break to send O'Loughlin away before
he found Sam. Leeds again scrambled back but a couple of tackles
later Wigan had a "back to one" just ten metres out. On the last,
a kick from Finch was perfect for Pat but Jones-Bishop did well to
force him to knock on. A stat on the BBC coverage shows Wigan held
78% to 22% possession swing at this point - that showed how much
they had dominated.
However Leeds got their
first attack on 15 minutes with their first penalty of the match
helping them past half way for the first time in the contest. Both
McGuire and Jamie Jones-Buchanan went close but Jeff Lima did well
to defend a close range grubber from Sinfield.
Wigan's dominance continued to be evident though. A good hit from
Tommy on Webb forced a knock on and that kind of defence by Tommy was being
backed up by his team mates. Leeds were struggling to move
anywhere in attack. A blow was soon
suffered though by Wigan with Lee Mossop leaving the field with a
shoulder injury on 20 minutes. He'd not long been on the field off
the bench! Charnley had earlier dislocated a finger as well, but
that was never going to force him off the field.
Leeds were doing well to hang in at
just 4-0 but Michael Maguire's side is a very
patient one. They know that just doing the basics will bring
reward and two tries in a four minute spell gave Wigan the reward
on the scoreline that their territorial domination deserved.
Brent Webb played a big part in the first score with a poor knock
on ten metres from his own line, after a huge spiral bomb from Sam
Tomkins. On just the second tackle, Lima was sent over from close
range off a pass from Paul Prescott. Easy conversion for Pat
made it 10-0.
Then on 27 minutes came a wonder
try that arguably matched, or bettered, that well remembered
effort of Martin Offiah in the 1994 Cup Final against Leeds. Sam
Tomkins collected a kick 10 metres from the line and he sent
brother Joel racing down the right wing. He shrugged off McGuire
and he was all of sudden faced with just Jamie Peacock and Webb to
beat. It looked like he didn't have a chance but his footwork
mugged the pair of them and he ended up going over under the
sticks. Absolute class effort and an easy conversion for Pat made
An error on the restart from Hansen
gave Leeds some hope but Ben Jones-Bishop was quickly ganged
tackled into touch by Richards, Finch, Carmont and Hoffman. You
couldn't help thinking that this was turning into the most one
sided final of all time. Wigan were so on top and Leeds looked
clueless to find an answer. No one though would have foreseen the
six minutes before half time. In that period Leeds scored two back
to back tries to give the half time score a very flattering look.
Leeds needed help to get close to our line, and got it with a
"back to one" just inside our half. A penalty soon followed and
they punished when Carl Ablett sent Ryan Hall over in the left
corner. Sinfield couldn't covert but I'm not sure they cared at
that point. They must have been relieved to have got anything out
of their first half show.
On that basis, relief
must have turned to delirium when they scored again on 37 minutes.
Classy try this one. Jones-Buchanan broke down the left but
although Wigan scrambled back, Jones-Bishop was soon over in the
right corner. Not good Wigan defence but take nothing away from
Leeds on that one. Sinfield converted off the touchline and in
just two and a half minutes, 16-0 total dominance had become 16-10
and well and truly game on!
Wigan fans at half time were all gutted. I'm
sure we'd have all snapped up a 16-10 half time lead if offered to
us at kick off, but in these circumstances it was a hell of a
bitter pill to swallow. A match that had been comfortable to watch
was now evil to watch and a very nervous experience. That torture
would string out for the whole of the second half.
The match was now a far more even contest but with the possession
being bogged down mainly in midfield. First try of the second half
was always going to be a big score but with chances proving very
limited, it took a gruelling 18 minutes to come. Sadly the try
went to Leeds.
An error from Ryan Hoffman in his
own quarter set up the territory and Ablett took advantage of some
weak defence from Joel Tomkins to score down the left. Crucially
Sinfield couldn't convert, so Wigan still led 16-14. You couldn't
help thinking though that this game was slipping away from us, but
a quick response would prove vital to the end result.
Total luck in the response as well, which came on 61 minutes. Good
defence from Wigan had forced Leeds into a poor kick that gave us
possession in their half. Seconds later, Lee Mossop, back on the
pitch despite the dislocated shoulder, sent Jeff Lima sliding over
from the close range, close to the posts. The luck? Well it was a
clear forward pass but the referee and touch judges all missed it.
A much needed massive stroke a luck, and a conversion from Pat
gave Wigan a two score lead again at 22-14.
Leeds had it all to do again but they were not
giving up. They were soon back on the attack following that try
but good defence out on the left saw Carmont and Richards combine
to get Jones-Bishop into touch.
10 minutes now remained but the time
was ticking down so slowly for us Wigan fans. It was pure evil,
and it became worse when Leeds scored again on 72 minutes. A high
tackle by Liam Farrell, on Rob Burrow, gave Leeds the territory and
they punished with Ryan Hall claiming his second after being sent
in the left corner by McGuire. Try was given after video referee
adjudication, but Sinfield again failed to convert off the
touchline. Leeds fans may have arguments over that previous Lima
try being forward, but this game was now 4 tries apiece and it was
the missed kicks from "Sir Kev" that kept them behind on the
8 minutes now to go and to be honest
you could only see Leeds going on to win the game. If they would
have got ahead on the scoreboard at any point, it would have been
curtains for Wigan I think. They went mighty close when
Jones-Bishop beat Richards for pace down left. He hacked on and it
was Sam Tomkins chasing down the loose ball with three Leeds players on his back. The
ball was perfectly sitting up in the in goal but Danny McGuire
touch it down, Sam just did enough in defence. Ooooh, that is pure
sport at it's best! A bugs dick between delight and despair for
both sets of supporters.
Down to 5
minutes to go and thankfully Wigan had the ball deep in the Leeds
half. A good kick from Deacon was tempting Charnley to score a
match winner but Ryan Hall did well to diffuse in goal. That gave
Leeds a tap twenty and they marched to within twenty of the Wigan
posts. McGuire's kick was flapped at by Sam but Chris Clarkson
knocked on a metre from scoring.
4 minutes to go and the tension is unbearable. Can we
hang on? That's exactly what we were doing but another crucial
decision would go our way. A kick from Finch was heading into
touch and the officials adjudged that it came off Rob Burrow when
replays suggested Charnley had the last play. Did any Wigan fan
care? They didn't have time to care because soon after the scrum,
Leuluai darted over from ten metres out to win the cup for Wigan!
Or has he? The decision was handed on to video ref Steve Ganson
because it's possible that Tommy had knocked on in scoring. Tough
call and it took a hellishly long 130 seconds for him to decide
but Tommy was given the try by benefit of the doubt. Oh, such
relief but the party could now begin - Wigan had won their 18th
Challenge Cup. Pat converted to make it 28-18.
the match restarted just 1 minute remained and that was never
enough time for Leeds to score try. The tannoy announced Jeff Lima
as Lance Todd Trophy winner - the first prop to win the award
since Bob Lockwood for Hull KR in 1980.
No doubt Leeds fan will point to those two crucial
decisions that went against them. They were vital to our
success in the end but for me, Wigan deserved this cup triumph for
their efforts in the first 34 minutes. That's the period of the
game when we won it. Like I said, I think half time flattered
Leeds on the scoreboard.
Sean O'Loughlin followed in the footsteps of
his brother-in-law Andy Farrell to lift the massive old trophy.
This had been a huge effort. Not just in winning the final against
Leeds but also the previous rounds in which we saw off Bradford,
Warrington and St Helens, with not one of those of those ties
coming at home. I don't think you can draw a tougher cup run than
that, so the boys should be mightily proud of this success.