Tomkins plays down v-sign row after Wigan roll back the years
Wigan 28 Leeds 18: Leeds' stirring comeback comes to nothing as Warriors secure their first Challenge Cup triumph at Wembley since 1995
Dave Hadfield was a schoolboy convert to rugby league, the game which, one way or another, has dominated his life ever since. After working for newspapers in Shropshire and Blackpool (where he covered the fortunes of Blackpool Borough) he travelled the world, working mainly in Hong Kong and Sydney. He became The Independent's rugby league man in 1990 and has written five books on the game and broadcast extensively for Sky and the BBC. Dave played his last game at the age of 53 and would have set up a try if anyone could have been bothered supporting his break. When not writing about the sport, he now limits himself to a bit of tick and pass with his local club, the Bolton Mets. Family includes supporters - of varying degrees of dedication - of Salford, Wigan, Sheffield Eagles and St George Illawarra.
Monday 29 August 2011
Wigan fulfilled what felt like their destiny by winning the Challenge Cup at Wembley for the first time since 1995, but not without a real scare and plenty of controversy along the way.
Sam Tomkins, the focus of so much attention before the final, had his magical moments but ran the risk of being remembered more vividly for a two-fingered gesture to the Leeds supporters after the first Wigan try.
It was part of an ongoing animosity between the two parties, Rhinos fans having booed Tomkins while he was playing for England at Headingley earlier this season. The player, though, denied any offensive intent after the match, saying he had "no idea" what was being referred to.
"I really don't know what it is," he said, a stance that would have been easier to sustain if mobile phone images of the gesture had not been Tweeting their way around the world by half-time.
In theory, Tomkins could face a misconduct charge from the Rugby League. When St Helens's Kyle Eastmond flashed a V-sign at his own supporters early this season, he was suspended by the club while inquiries took place. It would be a surprise if Tomkins got more than a slap on the wrist, but his array of gifts includes a rare talent for rubbing up the opposition the wrong way.
Even though this was not the dominant performance that many predicted from him, he still showed flashes of brilliance at Wembley. He was involved in setting up Josh Charnley for the first try and then sparked the third by weaving his way across field to send his elder brother, Joel, on a stunning 80-metre dash to score under the Leeds posts.
"It was all Joel really," he said. "I skipped across a bit and he showed what he can do. It was an outstanding try."
The senior Tomkins was a candidate for the Lance Todd Trophy for the man of the match, but that distinction went to his team-mate, Jeff Lima – a reminder that there is steel as well as silky skill at the core of Wigan's success. The Kiwi, the first prop to win the award since Brian Lockwood in 1980, has been a controversial presence at Wigan, twice being suspended for his tackling technique.
On Saturday, he was as formidable as ever in defence and, having scored just one try so far this season, added two more on the biggest stage. Timing your impact does not get much better than that.
"I knew what Jeff could do before he got here and he's just got better and better," said his coach, Michael Maguire, who has now won all the major trophies during his two years in charge at Wigan.
The final underlined the qualities that have made him and his team so successful. His policy of selection strictly on form led him to leave out Gareth Hock, whose rehabilitation after his drugs ban remains a work in progress.
Maguire also expects exceptional bravery from his players and he got it from the likes of Charnley, who played on with a bone poking through the skin of his finger, and Lee Mossop, who returned to the fray after dislocating his shoulder.
There was an abundance of courage from Leeds too. At 16-0 they were heading for a defeat even more humiliating and damaging than last year's 30-6 at the hands of Warrington but they found the reserves of self-belief to make it a compelling contest.
Part of that was down to the impact of Rob Burrow from the bench, but perhaps the best sign for the club's long-term future was the way that young outside backs like Kallum Watkins and Ben Jones-Bishop coped with the occasion. Both had eye-catching games, leaving the watching England coach, Steve McNamara, with a favourable impression of their potential.
Another thing that needs to be said in Leeds' favour is that they had no luck whatsoever in the key refereeing decisions. Lima's second try should have been disallowed for a clear forward pass, a vital scrum-feed awarded against the Rhinos was, at best, debatable and Thomas Leuluai's clinching touchdown looked unconvincing on the video replay.
For all that, the Leeds coach, Brian McDermott, was adamant that Wigan deserved their triumph, if only because his own players had failed to defend their line well enough at crucial times.
It was Wigan's day – and an unforgettable one for their captain, Sean O'Loughlin. When he walked up to collect the Cup, he felt like he was walking in the footsteps of predecessors like Ellery Hanley, Shaun Edwards, Dean Bell and his brother-in-law, Andy Farrell.
"For a Wigan lad to be lifting that Cup is a very special feeling," he said. It came at the end of a special match – one almost as gripping as Wigan's victory over Hull in 1985.
That is the tradition that has been revived by Maguire and his men. The test now is whether they can re-focus on retaining their Super League title; that would truly define them as a special side.
Wigan S Tomkins; Charnley, J Tomkins, Carmont, Richards; Finch, Deacon; Lima, T Leuluai, Coley, Hansen, Hoffman, O'Loughlin. Substitutes used McIlorum, Mossop, Prescott, Farrell.
Leeds Webb; Jones-Bishop, Watkins, Ablett, Hall; Sinfield, McGuire; K Leuluai, Buderus, Peacock, Jones-Buchanan, Delaney, Hauraki. Substitutes used Burrow, Kirke, Clarkson, Bailey.
Referee P Bentham (Warrington).
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