Paul Broadbent kissed the Silk Cut Challenge Cup, Sheffield's players hugged
each other deliriously and tears of joy ran down the cheeks of the Yorkshire
It was a scene of uncontrollable ecstasy and quite wonderful
Quite right, for this was simply one of the
greatest upsets in sporting history - to rate with Muhammad Ali beating Sonny
Liston, Sunderland eclipsing Leeds in the FA Cup, Foinavon winning the Grand
Three tries from Nick Pinkney, Matt Crowther and Darren Turner
were the bald statistics which took the Eagles higher than they have ever flown
But mere statistics do not fully tell the thrilling story which
unfolded at Wembley this afternoon.
For this was Sheffield, the side
founded when Gary Hetherington gave up his double glazing job 14 years ago and
assembled a side for £7,000, eclipsing the most famous rugby league club in the
We had feared a one-sided contest, a walkover, a massacre of
humiliating dimensions. What we got was a battle of truly heroic proportions and
a victory which was a fabulous advertisement for rugby league's great
No matter that there were only a shade over 60,000 in Wembley
to see it - those who stayed away were the only losers today.
bookies, remember, had installed Wigan as 1-14 favourites, which not only ranks
as one of the meanest prices in sporting history, but was something of an insult
to the professionals of Sheffield.
From the kick-off the whole Sheffield
side seemed intent on proving to the rugby world that they were a match for
their more illustrious opponents.
Their mood was determined, their
tackling intense and their tactics quite brilliantly hatched by meticulous and
studious coach John Kear, who had employed a sports psychologist during the week
to give his side a mental edge.
They pushed Wigan back into the corners
with precise kicks and such was the momentum created that within four minutes
they were on the scoreboard.
A great surging attack left Great Britain
prop Broadbent just short of the Wigan line and when the ball was switched left,
Mark Aston put in a wonderfully precise chip which landed like a Nick Faldo
sand-wedge in the arms of Nick Pinkney, who rose above Jason Robinson to score
his 22nd try for Sheffield.
There was a stunned silence among the Wigan
supporters, especially as it became apparent that their normally reliable stars
were making error after error.
There were more shocks to come.
Free-running wing Matt Crowther split open the Wigan defence with a long, mazy
run in the 27th minute and then a minute later came Sheffield's second
The ball was worked swiftly across the line and with an overlap
beckoning, loose-forward Rod Doyle threw out a 15-yard pass which bounced
The winger gratefully gathered up the loose ball and
scampered gleefully over in the corner, with Gary Connolly clinging to his legs.
Aston's conversion put Sheffield 10 points ahead.
It could have been
more, for while Andy Farrell reduced the deficit with a penalty when Sheffield
were punished for holding down, the gritty Yorkshiremen could have run in more
tries before half-time.
A 60-yard Crowther break was only halted by a
desperate tackle by Kris Radlinski.
And another Sheffield overlap should
have produced a try, but Keith Senior chose to pass to a touchjudge rather than
Crowther, who would surely have been clear.
Aston popped over a drop-goal
seconds from half-time to give Sheffield an 11-2 interval lead.
Wigan coach John Monie said at half-time, it did little to rouse his team out of
They looked anything but the confident side who are
leading Super League. They were too often second to the ball and Wigan were
lucky to hold back Broadbent a yard short in the 51st minute.
play-the-ball, however, substitute Turner burrowed his way under two players to
claim the touchdown.
When Aston slotted over the conversion, Sheffield
seemed unassailable with a 15-point lead at 17-2.
But Wigan have too many
quality players to play so badly for so long and they finally began to sort out
their problems, surging forward in wave after wave of attacks.
almost inevitable that the Eagles defence would crack and when the ball was
swept across the line by Henry Paul, Denis Betts and Lee Gilmour, Aussie winger
Mark Bell crossed in the corner.
Farrell slotted over the touchline
conversion and Wigan's nervous supporters willed on the team who had won eight
successive Challenge Cups in the 80s and 90s with a throaty roar.
waves of Wigan attacks got more and more frantic, however, as it became apparent
that one of the great sporting shocks was on the cards.
he had a crucial try in the 65th minute, but it was disallowed when desperate
defending held him up and Tony Smith was hauled down by a magnificent Dave
Watson tackle two minutes later.
It was intense, hairy stuff, but somehow
Sheffield held out - and no-one would begrudge them their victory.
reaching Wembley had been an incredible achievement - winning was the stuff of
As for Wigan, Monie will be disappointed - but will recognise
that his team were beaten by a more committed, more physically intimidating side
on the day.
And as his players trudged disconsolately up the tunnel, the
tannoy belted out Tina Turner's 'Simply the Best'.
It has been Wigan's
anthem for so long - but not today. On this sunshine Saturday the best team won
and it was Sheffield.
Andy Farrell 2
Mark Aston 2
Half Time: 2-11
2nd May 1998
Venue: Wembley Stadium (London)
Kick Off: 2:45pm
Stuart Cummings (Widnes)
Lance Todd Trophy Winner: Mark Aston