So 7 years had passed since Wigan's last cup
success in 1951 and this was a Wigan side that hadn't won a trophy
since 1952, the year legend Jim Sullivan had left the club after a pay
dispute and ended up going to rivals St Helens.
Only veterans Ernie Ashcroft and Jackie Cunliffe
remained from the 1951 squad, in fact Cunliffe had even played in
the Wigan side that lost at Wembley to Wakefield in 1946. So this side was
hungry for success and had the talent to produce in the form of
players like Billy Boston, Eric Ashton, Mick Sullivan, Dave Bolton
and Brian McTigue.
In the particular season Wigan had started
brilliantly by winning 13 of their first 14 matches but defeat
against Oldham in the mid October Lancashire Cup Final really did
knock them back. It started a run of just 4 wins from their
next 12 matches which concluded with a 12-9 home Boxing Day defeat to
rivals St Helens at Central Park.
At the turn of the year, Wigan found their early
season form again but that poor run I alluded to ultimately led them to missing
out narrowly on a top 4 play off place for the third season in a
Round 1 of the cup saw Wigan draw Whitehaven at
Central Park and it was comfortable progression after a hatrick
from Mick Sullivan helped Wigan to a 39-10 victory. Ashton (2),
Boston (2), Ernie Ashcroft and Roy Evans.
Round 2 saw Wigan given an away trip to Belle
Vue to play Wakefield and I hazard a guess that, benidorm flats
aside, the ground hasn't changed at all in the 53 years since. It
was a much tougher tie than Round 1 but Wigan had enough to get
through 11-5 thanks to tries from Ashcroft, Ashton and Boston.
The big test in this cup run came in the Quarter
Final draw which gave Wigan an away trip to Oldham. The
Watersheddings side had, like I said, beaten Wigan in the Lancs Cup
Final earlier in this campaign but not only that, they were current
league champions. They were also topping the table again in this
Eric Ashton remarked at the time that "nobody
wanted" to draw Oldham and the "prospect of playing at
Watersheddings did not appeal". That sums up how much of a terrible
draw this was. So not many pundits would have predicted that Wigan
would go to Oldham and win 8-0! Boston and McTigue claimed the
You'd think beating the league champions in
their own back yard would fill the team with confidence but in the
semi final, in which they were drawn to play Rochdale at Swinton's
Station Road, they produced a very nervy performance. They did not
play well at all and it took a great try from Sullivan, to which
Cunliffe converted, to basically nick a 5-3 victory.
Opponents in the final were Workington, playing
their third final of the decade after winning in 1952 and losing in
1955. They had finished 3rd to Wigan's 5th in the table so this was
a well balanced contest.
Wigan suffered a blow when loose forward Roy
Evans fell ill with severe flu in the days leading up to the final.
But his bad luck was Bernard McGurrin's gain because he came in to
play in the final despite having played just once since February
1st. So he'd missed the whole cup run but got to play on the big
day. Those kind of things happened in the era of no substitutes
Another lucky player was winger Terry O'Grady.
He also had missed the whole cup run but got his chance to play at
Wembley after centre Ernie Ashcroft had suffered a broken rib in an
away match at Barrow. To accommodate that loss the great Boston was
moved from right wing to left centre - thus breaking up the lethal
Boston/Ashton combination. That was a big gamble from coach Joe
On the big day only 66,109 turned up and
this low crowd was blamed on the fact the BBC were televising the
match live, the first final they'd covered since 1952. The BBC were
always keen on showing the cup final but the rugby league always
had the opinion that coverage would harm the gate. Despite that
apparently being found to be true, the BBC have covered the cup
final live ever since.
Now in all four previous
cup final victories, Wigan had only been behind on the scoreboard
once, and that was only being 2-0 down. In this final they had to
do things differently because it was Workington who scored first in
the 11th minute.
Brian Edgar broke and sent Ike
Southward racing towards the line. Mick Sullivan did his best to
catch him in a 40 metre race but Southward had enough pace to score
to the right of the posts. He then converted to make it 5-0
(remember still three points for a try back then).
Wigan though had started well. Their were no
signs of the nerves that had dogged them in the semi final. They'd
had their own chances before that try came with Boston and Bolton
both going close.
It was no surprise then when
Wigan hit back in the 17th minute. Terry O'Grady was running inside
from his right wing and the defence was hanging off. He found
Cunliffe, who swung left to Boston, and he sent Sullivan over in
the corner. Cunliffe then hit an excellent sideline conversion to
level the score at 5-5.
Wigan were now dominating
and were unlucky not to score again after Rees Thomas' "try" was
disallowed for a forward pass, but they did take the lead in the
28th minute. Thomas made the half break and offloaded to prop John
Barton. He was 20 metres out and three defenders just couldn't halt
his charge. His try was near the sticks, so an easy conversion for
Cunliffe made it 10-5 to Wigan. A penalty goal from Southward
narrowed that lead to 10-7 before half time.
Workington suffered blows early second half when forwards Andy Key
and Brian Edgar had to temporarily leave the field for treatment.
Remember, no substitutes, so injuries were a massive hindrance.
They did return but that had disrupted Workington and helped Wigan
had scored again.
Good run down the left from
McGurrin set up the territory, then swinging right big prop McTigue
went on the burst and scored in the right corner. Cunliffe couldn't
convert this time but 13-7 was a two score lead.
Half an hour still remained but although
Workington narrowed the lead to 13-9, with another Southward
penalty goal on 61 minutes, they couldn't find the much needed try.
They did go close with a Southward charging at the line again but a
brilliant tackle from Norman Cherrington forced him into touch.
Wigan really had to hang on in the end, but hang
on they did to win 13-9 and secure their fifth Challenge Cup
success. Scrum Half Rees Thomas was awarded the Lance Todd Trophy.
More importantly this triumph halted a run of five seasons without
a trophy and it proved to be the first of more triumphs to come in
the seasons to follow.