The meetings, the mergers, the stand-up-and-be-counted defiance of communities clinging to the last vestige of identity; a game in turmoil, pervading uncertainty. You could sense it everywhere at Wembley. "End of an era," said a Wigan supporter, resplendent in his team's colours.
Not of Wigan's domination, but of ritual. The climactic April trip with all its joyful, benign deportment and oblivious of southern condescension. The very thought of having to find a date for the Challenge Cup final gnaws at the heart of tradition. August. Who knows?
Given that British rugby league generally is in a parlous state, a number of clubs under threat of closure, it was hardly in a position to put history before survival, to run the risk of terminal decline.
In truth, the coming of Rupert Murdoch's Super League with all its attendant sub-conflicts goes hand in hand with Wigan's modern superiority, their eight successive Challenge Cup victories. It may result in tears, but monopoly made some form of expansion inevitable.
You could sense that from the subdued air in Wigan's dressing-room. The prize taken for granted? Perhaps not, but as Martin Offiah put it: "If the right doesn't get you the left will." Such is the concentration of talent at Central Park that Wigan did not need Offiah to be at his most penetrating. If Offiah does not get you, Jason Robinson will. Robinson did, piercing an uncertain Leeds defence to score two spectacular tries and lift the Lance Todd Trophy.
Coaches who came up against Brazil in the 1970 football World Cup realised quickly that they were running out of options. Something similar must have occurred to the Leeds coach, Doug Laughton, who was so downcast after the game that he locked himself in the team bus.
For most of the first half Leeds, who were given a reasonable chance, made a game of it but wherever Laughton looked he saw debilitating evidence of Wigan's frightening potential: Robinson; Offiah; Henry Paul; Va'aiga Tuigamala; Frano Botica; Denis Betts; Shaun Edwards; Phil Clarke.
Robinson's acute appreciation of opportunity put things in true perspective when it looked as though Leeds might justify the confidence some held out for them. Midway through the first half, leading by Graham Holroyd's penalty goal, and threatening, they were opened up suddenly. A try of sheer instinct, Robinson squirming free from Francis Cummins to leave the Leeds full-back, Alan Tait flat-footed. In spite of another by the enormously talented Henry Paul - a one-handed catch and a one-handed touchdown - the half-time score of 10-4 raised a stirring prospect.
Then came Robinson's most decisive intervention. From half-way, a try out of nothing that utterly embarrassed Tait who found himself facing the wrong way. A moment to haunt him.
This was approximately the difference between the two teams. Leeds could match Wigan for commitment but not for spontaneous brilliance. Wigan made more errors than Leeds but they had the advantage of inspiration. In their play the science of offensive football was always evident.
However, it is not Saturday's heroes who are uppermost in rugby league today but the rapacious media rivals, Murdoch and Kerry Packer. Their compelling charms hung over the proceedings. Who knows what will result from the global adventure. Money talks and more seductively than tradition. To walk out of Wigan's dressing-room was to walk out of history and into an unpredictable future.Reuse content