1. Nick Mardon, 2. Abraham Fatnowna, 3. Chris Ryan, 22. John Timu, 5. Martin
Offiah, 32. Tulsen Tollett, 18. Damien Chapman,
8. Grant Young, 26. Robbie Beazley, 10. Mark Carroll, 12. Steele Retchless,
9. Peter Gill, 13. Terry Matterson. Interchange: 4. Mat Toshack, 20. Matt Dunford, 21. Iain Higgins, 24. Roger
Tries: Nick Mardon, Abraham Fatnowna
Wigan had only conceded 10 points so far in three
challenge cup games and their defensive line had been very impressive up
to now. London were looking like a team that built on a powerful forward
game to free the backs and open up defensive gaps in their opponents. So
this game promised to be a real thriller. The venue of the McAlpine
stadium, although very modern and clean, sadly lacked the close atmosphere
you get from a crowd that stood on terracing. Still over 9000 Wigan fans
did turn up to roar as best they could to encourage the team to a Wembley
London started by kicking off and as Matterson went in for the first
tackle he was left in a heap in the floor as Wigan advanced up the field.
This did leave London a little thin and after one quick play the ball Paul
passed the Farrell, who missed out a player and Robinson darted over in
the left corner for the first try of the game after only 100 seconds, his
8th of the tournament so far. Farrell converted and Wigan started with a
good 6 -0 score. London looked shocked as Wigan's underrated forwards
powered in and gained yards of advantage in the pack battle that the fans
looked forwards too.
London gained some good yards and put in kicks that Full back Radlinski
found all to easy to deal with and little pressure was put on him. But
when he did have to jump and claim a high ball he did it expertly, and
launched some good counter attacks. London continued to give away silly
penalties for lying on at the tackle, and they made far too many mistakes
for their own good. Mistakes, which gave Wigan lots of attacking chances.
Robinson continued to swerve around players and make great runs up the
middle of the park, with Farrell, Paul and Smith giving Wigan loads of
options for kicking and planned moves.
But London's forwards stuck to their task and put in a big effort to drive
for the Wigan line. Wigan were suddenly stretched out wide and London
moved the ball out to their right wing where Nick Marden took an inside
pass to put the ball down in the corner a second before Tony Smith bundled
him out into touch. The conversion was missed and the score remained 6-4.
Farrell next converted a penalty which was given for holding down in the
tackle again, and both he and Smith carried on with a great kicking game
which saw Wigan turn the London defense time and time again.
The next score was a well worked move, Wigan moving the ball from left to
right wing where Paul spun out of a tired London tackle to pass basket
ball style to Mark bell who sprinted over to score on the right side.
Farrell converted to take to score to 14-4 where it remained to half time.
It was nearly 6 points more as Smith struggled over the line near the
posts, but was judged to have made a double movement by the referee.
After half time London just had to improve their discipline and kicking
game if Wigan were to be troubled. Wigan just had to keep on completing
powerful sets of six mistake free plays and take advantage as the gaps
appeared. And they did as Wigan mounted a confident attack on the London
line in the second half. It was evident that Wigan wanted to win not only
the game, but also each set of six as well. London continued to give away
possession and penalties that Wigan took advantage of. Yet the referee
still failed to find a yellow card.
Wigan did have a scare when Jason Robinson slipped whilst picking up a
kick and landed badly on his wrist. But after a taping up he continued to
cause London problems. Wigan's next try came when Smith found a gap and
offloaded to Radlinski who obliged by scoring under the posts. This was a
direct result of field position gained from a penalty against London's
Mark Carroll for talking out of turn to the ref. Yet more lying on at the
tackle resulted in the ref finally reaching for the yellow card to send
off Grant Young for holding down Mark Bell. London also lost inspirational
player Beasley, who was replaced by the superbly named Steel Wretchless.
A now tiring 12 man London could now not stop a Wigan team brimming with
confidence. Farrell drew in 3 London defenders on the right hand side and
Wigan played the ball across the field via Smith and Paul to allow
Radlinski in for a easy try. Danny Moore was the next to get on the score
sheet with a great try. Gary Connolly made a break down the left wing and
played the ball quickly after being tackled. The ball went across the
right via Robinson, Smith and Paul to Farrell and the Radlinski who was
halted just a meter short of a hat trick. McCormack played the ball and
Paul offloaded the Smith who in turn gave Moore the ball to score as close
to the posts as he could manage.
London gave in to Wigan pressure as they lost the ball in a tackle which
resulted in Wigan possession and the forwards driving up the field and
setting up a play which saw that combo of Smith and Paul offload the Moore
who went in for his second try. Farrell again converted the goal to make
the score 38-4 with just 3 minutes remaining.
London did grab a consolation try from a loose pass by Wigan that allowed
them to string together a good piece of play and send in wingman Butch
Fatnowna in at the corner. The missed conversion saw the ednd of the game
and the Wigan fans roar at the win and another trip to Wembley. Wigan's
defense had been impressive in the cup run so far. The midfield triangle
of Smith, Paul and Farrell caused no end of problems to defenses and setup
numerous tries. This indeed is Wigan getting back to their best in time
for Superleague III in 1 week's time.
For captain Andy Farrell it was a joyful day after three years in the
Challenge Cup wilderness.
"It's fantastic to be back at Wembley - it's everyone's dream," he said.
"The Australian lads are really excited about it, that's why they came
over here and they are delighted to get to Wembley. To have not gone for
two years was very disappointing and I could tell before we went out that
we did not want to mess it up this time."
Dennis Betts Said afterwards.
"I lost a couple of quid on Saturday," explained Mancunian Betts, who had
backed his home town team. "I was shouting for Salford, being a Salford
lad, and Andy Gregory and Andy Platt are friends of mine. But it won't be
easy against Sheffield. Their real strength is that they work as a team.
There is not one player that really shines but they have a great team
spirit and they are all willing to put it in for each other."
Monie admitted he had been concerned by the potential threat of London's
powerful forwards and had taken nothing for granted despite their status
of overwhelming favourites.
"It just seemed throughout the week that I was the only person in the
north of England that was worried," he said. "You can't prepare a team
with that sort of confidence surrounding them. I had to look at London and
see what they did good and how we could stop them. When the time was right
we played some sparkling rugby league," he said. "We probably did a bit
too much at the end but the boys were trying to entertain the fans. It was
a good performance but it has to be in the semi-final. We were not coming
here without taking some risks."
London coach Tony Currie summed up the general mood with his assertion:
"I hate to say it but I think we saw the Wigan of old out there for 80
minutes. In the wide open spaces of Wembley I can't see Sheffield really
Branson also admitted that he had been impressed with Wigan's performance.
"You have to take your hat off to Wigan, they are an incredible team," he
London 4 Wigan 14
Russell Smith (Castleford)
Live Coverage on BBC 2 Sunday Grandstand - Jon Champion & Joe Lydon
1998 Challenge Cup Semi Finals
Saturday 28th March 1998 Sheffield Eagles 22 Salford Reds 18
(at Leeds - BBC 1 Grandstand)
Sunday 29th March 1998
London Broncos 8 Wigan Warriors 38 (at Huddersfield - BBC 2 Sunday Grandstand)
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