|The touring Australian side
of 1986 finished the tour with a 100% record. They swept aside
Great Britain in a three match test series but it was Wigan who
provided the Aussies with their toughest test.
The opening match
of their 13 match British tour saw the Aussies visit Central Park
on a sunny Sunday afternoon in October 1986.
Gary Belcher, Martin Bella, Noel Cleal, Des Hasler, Brett
Kenny, Wally Lewis, Mal Meninga, Gene Miles, Steve Roach, Dale
Shearer, Paul Sironen, Peter Sterling - it was one hell of a
touring party. They didn't all play in this match but it was a
near test team that then Aussie coach Don Furner sent out that
At the time of this match in 1986 Wigan's period of domination
was just beginning. Under the leadership of Kiwi coach Graeme
Lowe, they would finish the 1986-87 season as champions, their
first title in 27 years, by finishing 15 points clear of St Helens
in 2nd place. With the likes of Dean Bell, Joe Lydon, Henderson
Gill, Shaun Edwards and Ellery Hanley in our ranks we went on to
lose just two league matches that season.
30,622, an attendance higher than the test match against Great Britain held at Wigan, packed into Central Park to produce the
largest crowd to ever witness a club game against a touring side.
The massive crowd was not left disappointed.
Australia came out of the traps quickest and took the lead in
the 3rd minute with a try from winger Michael O'Connor. He
finished off a break from full back Gary Jack but couldn't convert
his own try.
In the Wigan second row that day was 21 year old Australian Ian
Roberts. His career was in it's infancy at the time of this match
in 1986 and two years later he went on to become Australia's
highest paid rugby league players. In 1995 Roberts would shock the
world, by coming out of the closet and openly declaring himself
homosexual despite playing in what is perceived to be a very
heterosexual sport. He is now a massive gay icon in Australia and
if you watch closely you might spot him in the Superman Returns
Hollywood movie which was released in the UK two weeks a go.
Anyway on the pitch in 1986 Roberts would take a punch off
Aussie second row Paul Sironen which helped Henderson Gill kick us
onto the scoreboard with a two point penalty in the 21st minute.
Wigan were coping well but two tries in a five minute break
before half time put Australia in control of the match.
First Scrum Half Peter Sterling, now known for his commentary
work with Channel 9 in Australia, finished off a break from ex
Wigan player Brett Kenny. Kenny had played for Wigan a year
earlier in the famous 1985 Challenge Cup victory over Hull at
Wembley. Then Noel Cleal scored to give the Green and Golds a 16-2
half time lead.
A hammering for Wigan looked on the cards when "The King" Wally
Lewis increased their lead to 20-2 in the 47th minutes but Wigan
would launch a fight back.
It was half back Mike Ford, replacing the injured Ellery
Hanley, who inspired the comeback. His kick into the corner was
seized upon by Shaun Edwards who sent Dean Bell over for the score
in the corner.
That try was unconverted but Wigan would soon score again, this
time through Edwards. Graeme West hit the gap and sent Edwards
away. He managed to avoid the chasing Kenny and with Henderson
Gill's conversion Wigan were just 8 points behind.
In the 62nd minute the Aussies hit back with a try from Les
Kiss but Wigan would just not die.
After David Stephenson was held short of the line, Bell sent
Joe Lydon over for the score to make it 18-26 and for the last ten
minutes the visitors were on the rack. Wigan just couldn't hit
back further and the Aussies hung on for the win.
Australia went on to beat Great Britain in three test matches
as well as beating Cumbria and eight other club sides. However, no
one, including Great Britain, would come as close to beating them
as Wigan had done in the first match of the tour.