Richard de la Riviere looks back at what happened in Rugby League over the years on this day: 7th October
Twenty-six years ago today, Wigan were celebrating becoming champions of the world, after defying underdog status to beat the Australian Champions Manly in a bruising first official World Club Challenge match.
The idea of staging such a match was Maurice Lindsay’s, the Wigan Chairman. Having won their first Championship in 27 years, Lindsay was desperate to increase the club’s profile further and, despite having little support from the governing bodies in England or Australia, wouldn’t take no for an answer.
In the end he offered Manly a winner-takes-all cash prize of £20,000, which they couldn’t refuse, certain as they were that they would win.
And Lindsay’s confidence in the concept and in the strength of British Rugby League was fully vindicated, when an incredible crowd of 36,895, three times their usual average and paying gate receipts of £131,000, crammed into Central Park to watch the most anticipated of encounters.
Wigan coach Graham Lowe, a highly regarded New Zealander, fielded an entirely British XIII, with the veteran Kiwi Graeme West left wondering whether his nationality had cost him a spot in the side.
Even without West, their side contained numerous internationals, including Ellery Hanley, the captain, Steve Hampson, Joe Lydon, Henderson Gill, Shaun Edwards, Andy Gregory and Andy Goodway.
And Lowe had more than done his bit to create some interest in the game.
When showed a ‘Top Gun’ presentation video of Manly’s players, which was used at the game’s launch, he said: “After watching that, I wish we could go out and get stuck into the bastards this afternoon!”
He went on to ask of Manly’s firebrand forward Ron Gibbs: “What’s that bloke’s name – Hibbs or Knibbs?”
Manly, who had beaten Mal Meninga’s Canberra Raiders to win the Winfield Cup ten days earlier, fielded a star-studded side that boasted Grand Final man of the match Cliff Lyons, as well as Dale Shearer, Michael O’Connor, Des Hasler and Mal Cochrane, while they were captained by their loose forward, Paul Vautin.
But they were without Kevin Ward, the British prop who had played magnificently against the Raiders, and Noel Cleal, their international second-row forward.
And, five minutes into the second half, they lost another forward when Gibbs was sent off for elbowing Lydon – an incident that characterised a niggly game that saw only penalty goals trouble the scorer.
By the time Manly went down to 12 men, they were 6-2 down, with David Stephenson kicking three goals to O’Connor’s one, but the crucial period of the game followed the 60th-minute sin-binning of Wigan prop Brian Case.
Under immense pressure, the Riversiders held out, and when Case returned they were able to finish the job of holding out their illustrious opponents. Stephenson kicked his fourth penalty and Wigan won 8-2.
The man-of-the-match award went to the home side’s other prop, Shaun Wane, for a typically industrious display.
The event proved to be a huge public-relations boost for the game – even the Bristol Evening Post sent a reporter to produce a full-page match report.
“What an atmosphere,” said Lowe.
“It was a great night for Rugby League, and I was a very proud man.”
England beat Aussies in World Cup opener
England got the Centenary World Cup off to the best of starts when they beat Australia 20-16 at Wembley Stadium on this day in 1995.
With superstar American singer Diana Ross having memorably headlined the pre-match entertainment, the 41,271 spectators were treated to a thoroughly absorbing contest, which was one of only a handful of games that were televised by the BBC.
The rest were shown on the little-known and short-lived cable channel L!ve TV.
And, with Australia choosing not to select players from any clubs who had aligned themselves with Super League against the ARL, the result confirmed just how beatable Bob Fulton’s Kangaroos were.
There was a genuine belief among England supporters that, due to Australia fielding a much weaker side than they had in recent Ashes series, this time their heroes would be able to build on a first-up win and finally win a competition involving the green and golds for the first time in 23 years.
They still had plenty of good players, and their young second-rower Steve Menzies scored the game’s first try, before Andy Farrell replied for England, crashing over from a scrum base close to Australia’s line.
After the break, Chris Joynt, the St Helens forward, was over next, scoring from his own grubber, although whether he actually grounded the ball was open to debate.
But Mark Coyne’s try levelled the scores at 10-10.
England made the breakthrough late in the game, when John Hopoate spilled the ball in a tackle by Barrie-Jon Mather and Lee Jackson and Jason Robinson gathered and scored in the corner.
And when Paul Newlove intercepted Jim Dymock’s pass to score another it was game over, although Menzies’ late try caused a few hearts to flutter.
England’s win meant they were as good as certain to top Pool 1, with Fiji and South Africa to play.