Rugby League / Challenge Cup Final: Memories made of great moments of individuality: Union converts found a suitable stage for their talents at Wembley on Saturday. Alan Watkins reports

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The Independent Online
THE carriage at Baker Street was filling with Leeds supporters, who were so quiet they might have been off to chapel. There was a vacant seat opposite me in which a small supporter of about 10 sat down. Noticing a middle-aged man, he offered his place. 'That's all right, lad,' said the man.

Everyone was very good humoured and had come to enjoy the afternoon. It turned out to be a marvellous day and a match which, if it did not quite attain a level of greatness, produced a number of great performances from individuals.

People tend to see the past in the light of the present. Thus they say that Martin Offiah was a great loss to the union game. So he was: but in his time with Rosslyn Park he was regarded as a very fast wing who enjoyed a brief period of

supremacy during the Middlesex Sevens. He was nowhere near the England side.

He was made the player he is

today by Doug Laughton, then the Widnes manager. Today Laughton manages Leeds. A Leeds player of today, whom he brought to Widnes six years ago, is Alan Tait, still only 29, who had won four full Scottish union caps following four reserve appearances. He duly became the Great Britain league full-back.

Though Offiah, in his first - and greater try - turned Tait first one way and then the other, he would have beaten anyone else in the world. Or perhaps not: for Nigel Walker of Wales and

Andrew Harriman with, disgracefully, one English cap, might each have given Offiah a run. But it is hard to think of others.

Still, Jim Fallon following

behind more or less kept up with Offiah during his second try. Unfortunately Fallon failed to catch him. But he had a scarcely less wonderful match too, scoring one try in the Leeds' revival and giving the pass which enabled Garry Schofield, who looks increasingly like a recruiting poster of the First World War, to score another.

Fallon was sporting a haircut which made him look like a refugee from the early 1970s. My recollection is of him struggling to keep warm at the Richmond Athletic Ground, before he took off for the scarcely more hospitable climes of The Rec at Bath.

Like Tait, like Offiah, he is many times the player he was

before he changed codes. Partly this is because he really is better, but partly also it is because league gives backs, especially wings, greater opportunities to shine once the line of defence has been breached. Francis Cummins demonstrated this in his own Boys Own appearance.

Va'aiga Tuigamala, however, had a mixed game. For most of the first half he appeared as uncomfortable as a teetotaller in a distillery. Then, in the second half, his strength

almost secured a try for himself but made possible Sam Panapa's try. He, too, will become a better player.

I travelled back with some Wigan supporters. Opposite me was another small boy, this time with his father and mother as well. I dropped a paper which he picked up and, with a courtesy rarely seen on the Twickenham-Waterloo service, handed back to me. He will never have to ask: 'What was Martin Offiah like, Dad?' Like the rest of us, he will be able to reminisce that he saw Offiah at Wembley in 1994.

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