Shaun Wane’s 30-year involvement with Wigan is all but over.
When he walks away, he’ll leave as a club legend. Forever remembered for his contributions as a player and a coach.
But Wane’s association stretches back much further than that. What people won’t remember about Shaun Wane is him as a five-year-old, on the terraces of Central Park, where his love affair of almost half a century continues to this day.
“My first memory was with my dad,” he said.
“My dad took me to watch Wigan and he chucked me over on to the field at the end of the game and I went on to get some tie-ups from the Wigan players and I did that for five, six or seven years.
“Back then I looked up to players like Billy Melling and Terry Hollingsworth. Jimmy Nulty and Ness Flowers too. We got relegated towards the back end of the 70s but they were still my team and I loved them.”
Now 54 years old, Wane has, on numerous occasions, said Wigan is in his blood. It’s hard to argue with him.
He’s hoping for the fairytale ending. A third Grand Final triumph as the Warriors head coach.
Should he be successful, it will be Wane’s 28th trophy with Wigan as both a player and a coach. His first came in 1985 as a 34-8 victory over Warrington secured the 1985 Lancashire Cup.
However, you’ll have to go back a few extra years, to 1981, to be precise, to get his thoughts on his debut.
“We played against Barrow,” he said.
“They were big. Absolutely huge. I’d just turned 17 and everyone was massive. I just remember thinking I was way out of my depth. It was really physical and everyone was so aggressive, it was so full on. We got beat 16-9.
“I’ll always remember that game because of how big they were and how small I felt. I just felt out of my league.
“The second game was against Hull KR. They had Len Casey and Dave Watkinson who were really aggressive but we beat them 16-13. That was a fair game to win because they were flying then. I stood toe to toe with some of them in that game.
“You had to grow up very quickly back in those days. The referees were a lot more lenient than they are now. You had to stand up for yourself.
“Thankfully I played with players like Alan Hodkinson, Glyn Shaw and Mick Scott.”
It was a very different game back then, and Wigan was a different club. They had a different ground, Central Park. It was the location of Wane’s fondest childhood memories and also his greatest moment. Wane was named man of the match in the 1987 World Club Challenge Final. 36,895 packed in that day, one of the largest crowds in Central Park’s 98-year history.
“That will always stay in my memory as the most memorable game I played in. It was very special.
“I remember walking out and Graham Lowe, our coach told us to walk out, not run out. He told us to eyeball the person opposite us, like we were going to rip them to pieces. That was the hardest thing I ever had to do because I had so much energy I just wanted to sprint on there and get on with it.
“The atmosphere was fantastic. Someone opened the dressing room door before we went out. You could hear the noise of the crowd outside which was different to normal because there were so many there. They were setting fireworks off outside. It was the easiest night’s work for Graham ever. He just had to let the atmosphere get to us.
“The next thing I remember was two minutes before the end, the game flew by. We’d just stood toe to toe with one of the best teams in the world and physically battered them.
“That was one tough, uncompromising game. We kicked the hell out of each other. No tries were scored, it was always going to be a case of who cracked first. Thankfully it was them.”
Wane has overseen drastic change and unrivalled success. 310 players have donned the famous cherry and white since he debuted; 63 of them doing so during his tenure. The club has enjoyed glory clubs could only dream of, 65 trophies have gone into the club’s trophy cabinet (so far) in the last 36 years.
Other clubs, other rivals, have been and gone in fits and coughs, but Wigan have always been in and around the upper echelons.
Through all the different eras, the different faces, the different threats, Wigan’s longevity has been remarkable.
Wane believes there is one reason only.
“I’ve always felt as a Wigan player that we’re different.
“We always had the best kit, the best facilities. Everyone wanted to be us and wanted to beat us. But we’ve always been tight and looked out for each other. It’s been us against the world, so to speak.
“We breed that in our teams, that’s been the constant. I don’t know if that’s arrogant, but it’s true.
“When I’ve been here I’ve always wanted the best. The best hotels, the best travel, the best gym. I want the players to feel good and off the back of that, I demand respect. They keep the gym clean, they turn up on time, they listen to what the staff prepare for them. That’s how I’ve done it, I’ve been strict on showing manners and respect.”
Maurice Bamford was the man who handed Wane his debut, between Bamford and Wane, there were 15 other coaches, among them Lowe, John Dorahay, Eric Hughes, Frank Endacott and Michael Maguire.
Somewhat ironically, John Monie, Wigan’s most successful ever coach, was the man who showed Wane the exit door in 1990, during the height of the club’s greatest ever era.
“I was very happy, I never thought I’d leave Wigan
“But Maurice Lindsay got me in the director’s box and told me Leeds had made an offer they couldn’t refuse. Maurice had tears in his eyes. He told me he saw me as the change from the bad era in the second division to the next era where we won things. But once they said they were taking the offer I was going to go. I didn’t want to stay where I wasn’t wanted. I was only six months off my testimonial.”
Rugby wasn’t the same after.
“That hurt me deeply and it still does.
“I never felt the same again. I went to Leeds and that was a job. Wigan was a passion. I lost some love for the game.”
Though his exile lasted just a few years by 1992 Wane was heading for retirement with Workington, and took up a role with the club as a scout.
It would be nearly 20 years before he became head coach, the culmination of an incredible personal goal.
“I finished at Workington and went scouting for the juniors. I stayed in touch with the club, I coached at Wigan St Pats and with Wigan Schoolboys. I managed to get the job at Wigan in ’98.
“It was tough, I had to work hard. I was doing 120 hours a week for about 10 years. I worked at a construction company in the day and coached at night. In my dinner hour I’d get my laptop out and clip the games in training. I had young kids and my family life suffered, but my wife understood I wanted to be head coach and I knew I could do it. I’d seen people coach Wigan and I knew I could do it.
“The chance to coach my own club was a dream. To walk out at Old Trafford with another Wigan lad Sean O’Loughlin, who trusted the gameplan I gave him to win it, was without a doubt the best feeling in the world, far better than as a player.”
His oozing of passion makes it more and more unfathomable why he’s deciding to step away. Shaun Wane loves Wigan, to some, he is Wigan.
As his exit draws closer, it remains hard to figure out his decision. Maybe it will always remain that way.
“It’s sad,” he said.
“I won’t see people I’ve known for years day to day. I love going down and coaching, being on the training field. But there are parts of the job I don’t like. It’s a dream though.
“The club is going in one direction and I felt I was going in another. I felt it best to go different ways. The club was run in a way and I wanted to go a different way. I just felt it right and loads of things fitted in at once.”
There’s one final question. After all this time, almost 50 years since his first game, is Wane about to go full circle and take his seat in the terraces once more?
There’s a pause.
“I’m going to have a break I think.
“I say that but if I have a week off watching rugby I need to watch another game. As I think now I’m going to have a break and spend some time with my family. I’m going to go from working eight days a week to one day a week with Scotland, so I don’t know what I’m going to do, but I have a business consultancy that I have that will keep me busy.
“When the time feels right I’ll go back down and hopefully cheer them on to a win.”