WIGAN, seen by many as being as rich and secure as Fort Knox, lost some of their gilt in the second half of this wonderfully fast and eventful Silk Cut Challenge Cup final. But by the end they had flooded the market with their reserves of talent and, with plenty to spare, won their seventh successive Cup to go with the fifth championship in a row they claimed last weekend.
The basis of yesterday's victory, as so often, was the strength of their established players; the lethal finishing speed of Martin Offiah, who polished off two tries and won the Lance Todd Trophy as the game's outstanding player; the tactical genius of Shaun Edwards; the no-nonsense commitment of their forwards; the steady reliability of Frano Botica's goal-kicking.
Leeds, who contained three teenagers, had plenty of zest and ambition. But their captain, Ellery Hanley, who had lead Wigan to three successive Cup victories before moving to Headingley, was not at his old, inspirational best, and Leeds could not match Wigan's solid base of workmanlike efficiency.
A warm, brilliant day and Yorkshire versus Lancashire. Sunshine and Roses - what more could you want? Particularly if you were Francis Cummins, 17 years and 200 days old, the youngest player to appear in a Wembley final, and doing it on the YTS. More fun than stacking shelves in a supermarket. And the more so when you were lining up for Leeds opposite Edwards, whose debut record you had stolen by a single day, and who had gone on to play throughout Wigan's unbeaten run of 35 Cup ties.
If there was any thought that Cummins was too immature for the job, it was dispelled in the opening moments when Edwards himself sent an attacking kick to the right. It seemed like a test of Cummins's nerve, but the young wing coolly picked the ball out of the air from among the advancing Wigan backs and gained 50 yards before he was caught. And there was more to come nearly 80 minutes later.
In fact, Leeds made most of the early running, and were staging serial assaults on the Wigan line when, with a single piercing blow in the 13th minute, Offiah deflated all their mounting efforts. Collecting the ball close to his own line, he ran the length of the field, spurting and swerving through the thinning defence to score a try in the right corner. It was a bravura performance, though he had no choice but to go all the way since he had left his support far behind.
Although Leeds continued to play with an impressive vigour, and held almost as much possession and territory, it was Wigan who increasingly controlled the significant passages of the game through their forwards and halves. It enabled them to get in a second painful blow just before the half-hour when Edwards put in another of his teasing punts. Although Alan Tait, the Leeds full-back seemed to have it covered, it was Andrew Farrell, the Wigan second-row forward, who brusquely gathered the ball and went through unmarked to the posts. Botica converted the try, and before the interval tightened Wigan's grip with a penalty goal to make it 12-0.
Yet within 12 minutes of the game restarting, Leeds had reduced their lead to two points. Their revival began quietly enough, Graham Holroyd kicking an easy goal after Farrell was penalised for pushing back James Lowes's face in a tackle. Then, at four-minute intervals, first the Leeds right-wing, Jim Fallon, benefited from a Garry Schofield kick and a short pass from Lowes, to go over in the corner, and then, returning the favour, Fallon delivered the ball for Schofield to score. If the tries had not been scored so far out, might even have overtaken Wigan, but a two-point deficit was as near as they got.
Wigan pulled themselves together, retrenching with a Botica penalty, and building up to two quick tries to assert their natural authority once more. Mick Cassidy, who had come on as a substitute, broke into the clear to give Offiah the pass for a second clean-heeled try. And then the other sustitute, Sam Panapa, made his presence known with another. Botica converted both, and Wigan were 16 points clear.
The great Hanley, still clearly suffering from a hamstring layoff, had left the field, and with it the side's hopes had departed. But there was still time for a try of some sentimental value at any rate from Leeds's new boy, Cummins. Snapping up a pass intended for Offiah, he ran from just outside his line to cross Wigan's for a try as brave as the first by the man he had dispossessed.
Leeds: Tries Cummins, Fallon, Schofield; Goals Holroyd 2. Wigan: Tries Offiah 2, Farrell, Panapa; Goals Botica 5.
Leeds: Tait; Fallon, Iro, Innes, Cummins; Holroyd, Schofield; Harmon (O'Neill, 66), Lowes, Howard, Eyres, Mercer, Hanley (capt, Vassilakopoulos, 73).
Wigan: Connolly; Tuigamala, Bell (capt), Mather, Offiah; Botica, Edwards; Skerrett, Dermott, Platt (Panapa, 61), Betts, Farrell (Cassidy, 53), Clarke.
Referee: D Campbell (Widnes).
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