Without a doubt, this was Wigan's sweetest Challenge Cup triumph. I don't
even have to tell you what the end result result was, do I? Wigan had
already won the Lancashire Cup and the John Player Trophy before starting
the road to Wembley but the league would again be lost to Widnes.
Challenge Cup campaign started at Tattersfield, the home of Doncaster.
They may have been a Division Two side but they put up a creditable
performance in losing 38-6. Joe Lydon claimed four tries with Denis Betts,
Tony Iro and Shaun Edwards also crossing the whitewash.
Round 2 saw us given an away trip to play Bradford at Odsal. Tough
game, tough conditions, but Wigan came home with a 17-4 win. Shaun
Edwards, Ged Byrne and Nicky Kiss with the tries that added to a drop goal
from Joe Lydon.
The Quarter Final draw gave Wigan an away trip to Oldham. The BBC
quickly picked up this contest to televised on "Grandstand" as they
recalled how Oldham had denied Wigan a chance of a Grand Slam in knocking
them out of the cup two years earlier. This was a similarly tough contest
but Wigan prevailed this time with tries from Edwards and Kevin Iro giving
them a 12-4 win.
Maine Road, the then home of Manchester City, was the venue for a Semi
Final clash which was an absolute classic against Warrington. It was a
very defensive game but Wigan had managed to cancel out three penalty
goals from John Woods with a try just before half time from Joe Lydon. Ian
Potter had offloaded in the middle of the park to Andy Gregory who quickly
swung it out wide to Dean Bell. He went charging for the line and got the
pass away to send Lydon over in the corner, to which he converted.
The score remained at 6-6 for most of the second half and neither side
was making much edgeway against strong defences. With 7 minutes left
another set of six had seen the referee call the last tackle, with Shaun
Edwards trapped a metre inside the opposition half. Nicky Kiss took the
play the ball and passed to Lydon who everyone expected to just clearance
kick away. Instead Lydon unleashed a drop goal attempt from 57 metres
which hit the black dot perfectly. Amazingly despite the distance it was
well over the cross bar.
That put Wigan 7-6 ahead with 6 minutes to go and they then sealed the
game with a magnificent late try. Gregory's pass to Ellery Hanley was a
bit high but he plucked it out of the air, broke clear down the right and
with the sideline beckoning he cross kicked back inside towards the post.
The ball just bounced perfectly for Shaun Edwards to seal a Wembley clash
with St Helens who two weeks earlier had also gained a late victory over
Widnes. Lydon converted to make the final score 13-6, which in truth
flattered Wigan but who cared? The biggest semi final gate in twenty
years (26,523) had witnessed a brilliant cup tie.
In the other semi, Saints had knocked out eventual league champions
Widnes so must have fancied their chances in the final. Contrast this to
Wigan who lost both their games prior to the big day. One was a title
decider against Widnes and the other was actually a home Premiership match
against Saints, which they won 4-2 at Central Park.
So Wigan went in to Wembley on the back of disappointment of losing the
league and also being knocked out the Premiership. Not exactly form to
make you confident. But rather than getting a Saints side really fancying
their chances, we got a Saints side that really froze on the day and
failed to turn up.
The writing was on the wall for Saints in the first two minutes. Gary
Connolly would go on to be a superb servant of the Wigan side but in those
days he was a full back at Saints and playing in his first cup final aged
just 17. Wigan peppered him from the off and forced him to concede a drop
out. From that, Ellery Hanley went right, passed to Kevin Iro who charged
down the right wing and burst through poor tackle attempts from first Paul
Loughlin then young Connolly. "That was rank bad tackling" said Ray French
on the BBC commentary. Well I think he said rank anyway, I'm not sure?
Lydon missed the extras - 4-0.
Amusement for Wigan fans continued moments later with the image of Alex
Murphy barking like a dog on the Saints bench. In fairness Dean Bell had
nailed Les Quirk with a dirty high tackle that arguably would have seen a
red card today in this day and age of video referee interference. You
don't need to be a lip reader, looking back at the BBC coverage, to tell
Murphy shouted "Get him off!!!!!! The dirty bastard!!!!!!" from the bench.
I'm chuckling away re-watching this moment, let me tell you! Referee Ray
Tennant took no action in the end.
The next score came on 19 minutes in the shape of a penalty goal from
Lydon after Paul Groves had been done for lying on Shaun Edwards. It was
45 metres out but Lydon hit it sweet as a nut.
Then on 26 minutes Wigan claimed their second try. Going right, Edwards
hit Hanley on the burst and he hit through a gap between Paul Vautin and
Paul Forber before shrugging off Phil Veivers to score a magnificent try,
Saints were guilty of going far to high on him. Lydon converted to make it
Saints really hadn't even begun to play. Most times they got the ball,
they knocked it on. It was comfortable for Wigan and it really didn't get
any better for the enemy in the second half either, because Wigan took
full control of the game early in the second half.
First Andy Gregory slotted a simple drop goal from 12 metres on 44
minutes then soon after Kevin Iro claimed his second try. From a scrum on
the left wing, Wigan just swung it right. Hanley, Edwards, Andy Platt,
Hampson, and Bell all got a touch before Kevin Iro beat a poor tackle
attempt from Connolly to score in the corner.
Wigan now had a 17-0 lead and although Saints tried their best, they
just had no answers to the Wigan defence. They had one just real attack on
our line before we scored again on 65 minutes. Edwards broke clear from
half way with a beautiful step and it looked like he'd go all the way
after beating Connolly, who was getting a harsh lesson, at full back. Paul
Forber managed to stop him but Edwards just offloaded to send the
supporting Gregory over by the posts. Lydon converted to make it 23-0.
This was such a one sided contest, the only thing in doubt in the final
14 minutes or so was whether Saints could avoid being nilled. They
couldn't and Wigan ended up getting a fitting cherry and top of the cake
try late on. It came for Steve Hampson who was playing his first cup final
having been cruelly denied a spot in Wigan's 1984, 1985 and 1988 finals
due to injury. Lydon sent him over in the left corner to a huge cheer.
Lydon didn't convert but who cared. Wigan had nilled the enemy at Wembley!
They still haven't lived this one down on the other side of the Billinge