Poor Widnes. The chances currently of beating Wigan at Wembley seem about the same as those of Bill Clinton making up his mind. Poor Widnes. They had injury troubles, but yesterday they came nearer than anybody else to ending the Wigan run.
It did not start well for them. Wigan began with their customary clever probing and wind-whistling multiple tackling. Widnes looked panicky, especially Bobby Goulding, a wonderfully talented scrum-half who can inspire and infuriate in the space of the same sidestep. He was to have one of his more mixed days.
But after 10 minutes, his kick to the corner put Wigan into all kinds of unaccustomed trouble, the ball span free and Eyres, the Widnes second row, swept aside some handbag tackles to score. This was lese-majeste and was to be punished, as was Eyres. Wigan swept upfield. Goulding committed himself too early, and Shaun Edwards, now a calmer, older version of Goulding, put Kelvin Skerrett, the big Yorkshire prop forward, away.
A prop forward at pace at Wembley in the sunshine going for the line and scoring is one of the game's great sights and Skerrett was imperious about it.
But not as imperious as Kurt Sorensen, his Widnes counterpart, who, six minutes later, following his own script, brushed Botica and Hampson aside to score in his last match for Widnes at the advanced age of 36.
Wigan's calm control, instilled over the last decade by Wigan's two antipodean coaches, Graham Lowe and John Monie, had disappeared; the game was being played at a jittery, frantic pace.
'You watch our Welsh boys,' the Widnes fans had said before the game. Well, the Welsh boys didn't really fire. Jonathan Davies was anonymous and it would be far kinder not to mention poor John Devereux. Unfortunately though, one of the awful errors by the wing saw him lose the ball in the tackle; Offiah slipped it to Dean Bell, Wigan's captain and man of the match, and they were back in it, never to be out of it.
A penalty on the very hoot of half-time saw Wigan go in 12-10 up. But it was not the usual bright, confident interval for their faithful, who before the game had left no doubt that they were as keen on winning the sixth final as the first. Confident, your Wigan fan, a bit arrogant, but never blase. But then it is difficult to be blase when the rest of Lancashire call you the Pie Eaters and you wear cherry and white jerseys sponsored by the local electricity board and a brand of liniment.
You could almost cut the gust of relief which blew from their end of the ground when Panapa went over two minutes into the second half. We waited then for Wigan to kill them off, but they couldn't. It got hot, hotter, scrappy and scrappier. Things were going so awry that Botica was missing kicks and Offiah wasn't scoring. Still, he was lucky to have his head on his neck after receiving the force of Eyre's elbow after the game's one sweeping move.
Eyre was off and Widnes were out of it. Goulding was lucky not to follow after another late tackle, on Robinson. Somewhere in the middle of all this, on as substitute for Wigan, was the 17-year-old Andrew Farrell looking, apart from the incomparable Edwards, the most composed player on the pitch. No wonder they call it the man's game for all the family.
It was, in the end, a close thing. Poor Widnes. But there was consolation. From John Farrell, Widnes supporter and spreader of the gospel, standing beneath his banner proclaiming: 'I will take the cup of salvation, (Psalm 116, verse 13)'.
And his message to his disappointed fellow supporters was: 'Cheer up boys. It's not the end of the world - yet.'Reuse content