Rugby League / Challenge Cup Final: Control is key to Wigan's continued success: Widnes come close but Wigan's disciplined rugby league wins the trophy for the sixth year running

 

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Widnes. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .14

Wigan . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .20

There was no doubt about the buzzword at Wembley in the aftermath of the first truly competitive Challenge Cup final in six years. The team who had it and the team who lacked it were talking about one thing - discipline.

Widnes's loss of control was most memorably illustrated by the sight of Richie Eyres trotting off alone 15 minutes from time, having become only the second man to be sent off in a Wembley final. Eyres watched the incriminating evidence of his raised elbow colliding with Martin Offiah's head after the game. 'I can't argue with the decision,' he said. 'But it was out of character for me.' He was right on both counts.

If that was the most spectacular excess, it was a long way from being the only one. Bobby Goulding could have joined Eyres in the changing rooms after a wild swing at Jason Robinson. There were too many penalties and unforced errors in Widnes's game throughout.

'We did some dumb things,' admitted their coach, Phil Larder. Kurt Sorensen, scorer of a glorious try in what was intended to be his last game, said: 'We beat ourselves.'

Sorensen is now reconsidering his decision to retire, after the disappointment of losing on his first visit to Wembley. 'It's not a nice feeling and I might want to come back to put it right. A week on holiday in Tenerife will decide it,' he said.

What decided this match was Wigan's ability to recover from their errors and batten down the hatches; the D-word was much in vogue in their sanctum as well. 'I thought Widnes's discipline went,' said John Monie, celebrating his fourth Challenge Cup in his fourth and last season with Wigan. 'The thing that works for us is that we're tough week after week, we're committed week after week and we play to the rules,' he said.

When Monie first arrived at Wigan he made a practice of immediately substituting any player who gave away a stupid penalty. The message got home, especially to Dean Bell, Wigan's captain and man of the match on Saturday. 'There is no fiercer competitor than Dean, but there are no penalties in him any more,' Monie said. 'Kelvin Skerrett made his name by knocking people out. He doesn't do it anymore and I'm proud of that.'

The 18-year-old Jason Robinson, who had not even played many reserve-team games at this stage last year, had an admirable match on Saturday. Andrew Farrell, who, at 17 years and 11 months, became the youngest player to take a winner's medal away from Wembley, showed enough of his startling potential in the 25 minutes he was on the field to justify his inclusion in the squad.

It was not Wigan's most impressive Wembley performance - Andy Platt, in fact, rated it by far the worst he had played in - but it was the most gripping final for a number of years. Widnes twice did to them what no other side has achieved since their Wembley victory became an annual event in 1988 by taking the lead with tries. They were good tries, as well, Eyres and Sorensen both running on to the ball in exhilarating style after crisp build-up work.

Wigan's replies, each within a few minutes, owed more to glaring mistakes. The first came after David Hulme had knocked on and Wigan's possession produced a gap in the defence when Goulding dived in impulsively at Shaun Edwards. 'That was my fault,' he said when he saw the video and once more a Widnes miscreant was perfectly correct.

The second try continued John Devereux's Wembley horror show. He missed the tackle that lost Great Britain the World Cup in October; on Saturday, on virtually the same patch of grass, he fumbled a simple kick and then lost the ball by running into Offiah and Andrew Farrar, opening the way for Bell to score.

The try that settled it owed nothing to any Widnes shortcoming, Bell creating the touchdown for Sam Panapa with a powerful run and perfect pass.

Overall, though, it was lack of discipline and control that cost Widnes dear. 'We were the better side and we gave it to them,' Widnes's Australian import, Julian O'Neill, said. It comes close to summing up why Wigan are celebrating their sixth Challenge Cup in six years rather than Widnes their first in nine.

Widnes: Spruce; Devereux, Currier (McCurrie, 55), Wright (Currier, 79), Myers; Davies, Goulding; Sorensen (Faimolo, 40), P Hulme, Howard, Eyres, Faimalo (O'Neill, 27), D Hulme.

Wigan: Hampson; Robinson, Lydon (Panapa, 29), Farrar, Offiah (Lydon, 79); Botica, Edwards; Skerrett (Farrell, 55), Dermott, Platt (Skerrett, 77), Betts, Clarke, Bell.

Referee: R Smith (Castleford).

At Central Park yesterday, Wigan celebrated their Challenge Cup victory in song. A 30,000 crowd was entertained by Betts, Dermott and Robinson singing while Panapa played guitar. John Monie, who will soon go to Auckland Warriors, said: 'It was a tremendous turn out and send off. I'm just pleased and privileged to have been part of a club with such great supporters, players and coaching staff.'

(Photograph omitted)

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