Wigan take custody of historic silverware

Dave Hadfield sees the giants of Central Park beat the Bulls to end an era in style
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The Independent Online
The Stones Bitter Championship was received into Central Park for the seventh season in succession last night as they beat Bradford Bulls 32-18 and this time it will be staying there.

Permanent custody of a trophy first presented to the now long-defunct Broughton Rangers in 1902 has been the incentive on offer at the end of what has been in many ways an unsatisfactory last winter season.

There is something out of kilter with the game's traditions that part of its heritage should be given away for good to the team winning a competition this season that has already lost the interest of many who regarded it as just an uncomfortable transition.

What is beyond dispute is that Wigan are the club best qualified to look after valuable silverware. The weekly routine with the duster and polish is second nature in their boardroom by now.

"When we knew that the trophy was up for grabs, it made us all the more determined to give it our best shot," said Graeme West, a Wigan coach who has known little but trophy gathering in his two seasons in charge.

"There were times when we wondered whether we had got the players to do it, but some of the young lads have come through really well."

The deputy wing, Rob Smyth, typified that endless process of replenishment last night, scoring two tries during his two periods on the field as a replacement for Gary Connolly.

If there is a secret behind their success at Wigan it is this ability to unearth fresh match-winners and it was only fitting that as one era of trophy winning ended last night, the latest of them should make his mark.

"There were a lot of people who thought we would have to go out and buy," West said. "But we have given youth its chance and they have not let us down."

Shaun Edwards, a more familiar but equally decisive influence last night, said that it would have been an injustice if Wigan had failed to secure permanent custody of the trophy they had won for the previous six seasons.

There were only the brief- est of suggestions that such an injustice might be possible.

Another theme which runs through Wigan's continuing success is the way they trawl the world for the very best and most adaptable talent and both their New Zealanders, Henry Paul and Va'aiga Tuigamala, had games that emphasised their value to the club.

Tuigamala opened the scoring in the sixth minute and, although Paul's younger brother Robbie replied for Bradford, Smyth's first try, followed by the first for a month from Martin Offiah, gave Wigan one hand on the trophy by half-time.

That grip was loosened slightly after the break when Gary Christie crossed for the Bulls, but Smyth's second and two tries created by the glorious broken-field running of the elder Paul - one scored by Neil Cowie and the other completed solo - ensured that Wigan had matters neatly parcelled up before Paul Cook's late effort for the visitors.

They carried the old cup away and christened it with a modest amount of champagne. After all, there are still two league matches to be played, the start of the challenge cup trail and, after that, the launch of Super League which will, it is hoped, provide them with sterner competition.

And one thing Wigan never tire of is winning.

Wigan: Connolly (Smyth, h-t); Robinson, Tuigamala, Radlinski, Offiah; H Paul, Edwards; Cowie, Hall, O'Connor (Quinnell, 55), Quinnell (Dermott, 30), Cassidy, Haughton (Johnson, 62). Substitute not used: Craig.

Bradford Bulls: Graham; Cordle, Christie, Hassan, Cook; Summers, R Paul (Longo, h-t); Ireland, Dwyer, Fairbank, Donougher, Nickle (Hellewell, 60), Knox (Medley, 51). Substitute not used: McDermott.

Referee: C Morris (Huddersfield).

Wigan: the wonder years

1984-85 Challenge Cup

1985-86 Regal Trophy, Lancashire Cup, Charity Shield

1986-87 Championship, Regal Trophy, Premiership, Lancashire Cup

1987-88 Challenge Cup, World Club Challenge, Lancashire Cup, Charity Shield

1988-89 Challenge Cup, Regal Trophy, Lancashire Cup

1989-90 Championship, Challenge Cup, Regal Trophy

1990-91 Championship, Challenge Cup.

1991-92 Championship, Challenge Cup, World Cup Challenge, Premiership, Charity Shield, World Sevens

1992-93 Championship, Challenge Cup, Regal Trophy, Lancashire Cup

1993-94 Championship, Challenge Cup, World Club Challenge, Premiership

1994-95 Championship, Challenge Cup, Regal Trophy, Premiership

1995-96 Championship, Charity Shield, Regal Trophy