Rugby League / Challenge Cup Final: Offiah rules the roost as wingers fly: Memorable match as Wigan master defiant and determined Leeds

Click to follow
The Independent Online
Wigan. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .26

Leeds. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .16

THE most expansive and entertaining of Wembley finals gave all four wingers something to remember, but it left Martin Offiah with something he will never forget.

If the prominence of the wide men goes some way to defining a memorable match, then the first of Offiah's two tries must rank as the most spectacular individual effort the stadium has seen.

His team-mate, Va'aiga Tuigamala and the Leeds pair of Jim Fallon and Francis Cummins, had their say, but few players have experienced a Wembley moment to compare with the one for which Offiah was responsible on Saturday.

Wigan had been given a testing opening 12 minutes by Leeds and Gary Connolly had to react quickly to pick up a kick from Graham Holroyd 10 yards from his tryline.

Frano Botica threw out a routine pass from acting half and Offiah cut between Neil Harmon and Craig Innes to head for the opposing tryline, over 90 yards away. The way Offiah drew Alan Tait infield before scorching past him into the right corner showed a mastery of technique as well as of pure speed.

It was small wonder that after a season that started late because of a shoulder reconstruction and then seemed to reveal him as a reduced, if never a spent, force, that Offiah was jubilant. 'It's not long ago that people were saying that Martin Offiah's finished. There are always people ready to take cheap shots when things aren't going so well,' he said. 'It was a great break to get at that time of the match,' he said of that remarkable try. 'I knew that if I got clear I was going all the way.

'I was just playing games with Alan Tait. I know he is a hard man to get past on the outside so it was no good just going for the corner because he would have the angle on me. I had to make him think that I was coming inside and then turn it into a foot race.'

When Offiah outstripped Fallon for his second try, repeating the performance that earned him the Lance Todd Trophy two years ago and winning the same award, he demonstrated his continuing supremacy in those contests.

In between, however, there was enough drama to fill several finals.

Wigan were on their way to a comfortable seventh successive Challenge Cup when Shaun Edwards' kick bounced off Tait's chest into Andy Farrell's arms in the 26th minute. Botica's conversion and a penalty had them 12-0 ahead at half- time and the result looked inevitable.

Leeds had shown, through the pace of Cummins and the strong running of Gary Mercer and Richie Eyres in the second row, that they carried some attacking threat even if their defensive work was sluggish at times.

Their revival began when Farrell was penalised for a facial massage on Lowes and Holroyd landed a penalty and continued when they scored their first try eight minutes into the half. Garry Schofield's high kick eluded Connolly, under pressure from Mercer and Ellery Hanley, Lowes managed to lob out an overhead pass for Fallon and he dived over in the corner.

Leeds gathered further momentum when Barrie-Jon Mather dropped the ball under the weight of a tackle from Hanley and Fallon three minutes later. Fallon picked up and turned his pass inside for Schofield to go through the tackles of Offiah and Martin Dermott, again too wide out for Holroyd to convert.

It was the arrival of their substitute, Mick Cassidy, that enabled Wigan to pull away once more. Fizzing with energy from the start, he drew a foul from Harvey Howard to give Botica a penalty and then his break out of defence gave Offiah all the lead he needed to outpace Fallon.

A kick ahead, a regather out of Tait's arms and a mighty surge for the line by the increasingly impressive Tuigamala almost brought the next Wigan try. Instead, the ball was moved left and Botica's instant, fingertip take and pass allowed the second Wigan substitute, Sam Panapa, to score just as he had last year.

Offiah could have become the first man in a Wembley final to score a hat-trick, but he fumbled Phil Clarke's pass to allow Cummins his own magic moment - a 90-yard sprint for a try three minutes from full time.

But by then Leeds had effectively conceded defeat by finally persuading their captain, Hanley, to leave the field, 10 minutes after they first tried to do so.

Leeds had to take the risk on Hanley's influence and leadership, but his coach, Doug Laughton, admitted that he had been a long way from his normal level of mobility after his hamstring strain.

Laughton was quick to play down suggestions that Hanley was set to retire, but not as quick as Wigan's chairman, Jack Robinson, was to deny speculation that he is lined up as Wigan's coach when, as still seems likely after a league and cup double within six days, John Dorohy takes his leave.

If this was to be Hanley's last match, it was not the one by which he will be remembered, he started and ended the afternoon with a gracious gesture, allowing Schofield to lead out the side and going to each of the Wigan team with congratulations after the final hooter.

Wigan: Tries Offiah 2, Farrell, Panapa; Goals Botica 5. Leeds: Tries Fallon, Schofield, Cummins. Goals: Holroyd 2.

Leeds: Tait; Fallon, Iro, Innes, Cummins; Holroyd, Schofield; Harmon (O'Neill 65), Lowes, Howard, Eyres, Mercer, Hanley (Vassilakopoulos 72).

Wigan: Connolly; Tuigamala, Bell, Mather, Offiah; Botica, Edwards; Skerrett, Dermott (Platt 72), Platt (Panapa 61), Betts (Farrell 78), Farrell (Cassidy 53), Clarke.

Referee: D Campbell (Widnes).

----------------------------------------------------------------- MATCH FACTS ----------------------------------------------------------------- POSSESSION 1st half 2nd Tackles Kicked Errors Handover Leeds 16 19 142 17 7 0 Wigan 17 11 137 18 8 2 TERRITORY PENALTIES SCRUMS 1st half 2nd Award Goal % Award Won % Leeds 19 23 6 1 60 11 11 55 Wigan 23 23 4 2 40 9 9 45 -----------------------------------------------------------------

(Photograph omitted)

Comments