League legend finally finds himself appreciated

Shaun Edwards and Wigan are united against St Helens. Dave Hadfield reports
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The Independent Online
One constant factor links Wigan in the Premiership final at Old Trafford on Sunday with the other 37 major finals they have contested since their re-awakening in 1984. Shaun Edwards is that thread of continuity - but it is a thread that came close to being severed this season.

There have been threats, recriminations and rumours in the past, but this time it seemed just possible that Edwards might leave. In the end, it was an affection he has not always been able to count upon from Wigan's supporters that kept him on board for this weekend's clash with St Helens and for another two seasons thereafter.

"There may have been certain people at the club who wouldn't have minded if I had left," he said. "It was the support from the Wigan people that kept me here. I'm not ashamed to say that I was touched by it. I won't be macho and try to deny that it was touching, because I haven't known that happen to many players."

It has taken him 14 seasons of demonstrating his value to the club to receive as his due the sort of fierce devotion that used to be accorded to Andy Gregory, his former half-back partner who wanted to prise him away to Salford.

It has taken Wigan supporters an unconscionably long time to fully appreciate Edwards' importance, but the message has sunk in at last.

"I was being stopped in the street by people who might not even go to the matches now, saying that they didn't want me to go. It meant a lot to me."

His differences resolved, Edwards can now concentrate on yet another landmark in his Wigan career.

While others who have shared previous successes have gone elsewhere, talking of new challenges, his career is an endless series of variations on the same challenge - that of keeping Wigan ahead of the field.

And yet this Sunday is subtly different. St Helens have won the Challenge Cup and the inaugural Super League title this season; Wigan have won precisely nothing and, if that is still the case at 8.30 on Sunday evening, the season, says Edwards unequivocally, will go down as a disaster.

"We will have nothing and Saints will have the treble," he broods. "You couldn't have billed it better."

The rise of Saints relative to Wigan has not been a surprise to Edwards, who has, after all, been complaining his own club was losing too many star players for the last couple of years.

"They have been equally talented for some time now," he says of Sunday's opponents. "But you could say they maybe didn't have the mettle. You can't say that about them now, after the number of times they have come back in matches. I also think they are very well coached."

It is in coaching, in the long-term, that Edwards' ambitions now lie. He admits to a hankering to coach Wigan, "but I would like to be the Great Britain coach. That is my real ambition."

It is one that may hang in abeyance for some years while Edwards, 30 next month, adds the final chapters to his playing career.

Apart from a niggling knee that will go under the knife in two weeks' time, he feels as fit and eager on the eve of his 38th final as he did before his first, at full-back against Widnes at Wembley in 1984.

He will also know when it is time to bring one of the greatest rugby league playing careers to a halt, without anyone needing to drop a hint.

"It will be when I look around the league and see three or four players who are better than me in my position."