29th July: The defeat that changed Wigan

Richard de la Riviere looks back at what happened in Rugby League over the years on this day: 29th July.

Huge favourites Wigan were humiliated 37-24 by Catalans Dragons in the Challenge Cup semi-final on this day in 2007, as the French side booked a Wembley encounter with St Helens in the first final to be played at the national stadium since 1999.
Going into the game, Wigan were ninth in Super League and Catalans tenth, but that didn’t quite tell the full story as the Warriors had recently been docked four points for a 2006 salary-cap breach.  Without that they would have been fourth.
The Catalans had been bedevilled by a crippling injury list for much of the season.  But, despite that, they had improved enormously on their debut campaign a year earlier, which had seen them win the wooden spoon.
They recruited strongly, bringing in NRL stars like Adam Mogg, Clint Greenshields, Casey McGuire and Jason Croker to add to Stacey Jones, who was still one of the best scrum-halves in the world.
Their French contingent were all handy players too, although the pick of the bunch, Jamal Fakir, was missing with injury.
Wigan, meanwhile, boasted Trent Barrett, who was enjoying a terrific first season in Super League and who was regarded by many as the clear favourite for the end-of-season Man of Steel award.
Before the game, the BBC pundits were unanimous in their belief that Wigan were on their way to Wembley.  But a third-minute McGuire try might have made them think again.
And if that didn’t, then further tries from John Wilson, Mogg and Vincent Duport by the 19th minute must have made them reconsider.  Mick Potter’s men were running at over a point a minute at 22-0.
Wigan were shellshocked, but they managed to stem the tide and Thomas Leuluai got their first score in the 38th minute, although a Jones penalty a minute later took the half-time score to 24-6.
And when Duport scored again with Jones adding the conversion and a drop-goal the score was 31-6 with 25 minutes to play.
Game over, surely?
Not quite!
Mickey Higham scored a couple of minutes later and then came the crucial moment.  Jones was binned for delaying a 20-metre restart – a clear case of the punishment not quite fitting the crime.  With him off the field, Wigan scored twice to close the gap to seven points.
The BBC cameras panned in on the sidelined Jones who appeared to have tears in his eyes.
But like the champion he was, he came back onto the field and set up the clinching try with his first touch as he grubbered through for Croker to seal victory with eight minutes to go.
One interesting footnote was that Wigan bosses Dave Whelan and Maurice Lindsay later went through with their promise of selling the club if they failed to get to Wembley.
So if this defeat was responsible for ushering in the Ian Lenagan era at the club, perhaps Wigan fans will conclude it was worth the pain on that sunny afternoon at Warrington.

Agar wins it for Dewsbury

Richard Agar was the matchwinner as Dewsbury won the Northern Ford Premiership final on this day in 2000, as they beat Leigh 13-12 in a thrilling final at Gigg Lane in Bury.
The Rams had topped the division with 22 wins and a draw from 28 games, three positions and three points ahead of their opponents.
Despite going into the game as favourites, ten of the Dewsbury side had played in their defeat to Hunslet on the same stage a year earlier.
But any pre-match nerves would have surely dissipated when Agar’s halfback partner Barry Eaton went over for a second- minute try.  And when substitute Matthew Long scored with his first touch in the 23rd minute, the Rams were 10-0 up.
Enter Leigh’s young hooker Mickey Higham, who had already scored 20 tries in the season.  Six minutes after Long’s try he scored following a Daniel Frame fumble and, after Eaton kicked a 64th-minute penalty, Higham’s second try levelled the scores with ten minutes to go.
But, with just over two minutes left, Agar took the ball from Dan Potter at acting-halfback and kicked the winning point from an angled position, 12 metres out.
Rams Chairman Bob McDermott immediately demanded that the Rugby Football League hand the club promotion.  They were planning on playing their home games at the Don Valley Stadium in Sheffield, were they to have been promoted.
Sheffield Eagles had merged with Huddersfield a year earlier and the club was based in Huddersfield, meaning there was no Super League presence in the Steel City.
In the end they were denied, and Super League’s bottom club, Huddersfield-Sheffield Giants, received a stay of execution.

Harris bows out for Leeds

Iestyn Harris played his last game for Leeds on this day in 2001, contributing a touchline conversion to a 32-26 win at Huddersfield.
But he injured a wrist in the game, and within a fortnight had signed a lucrative deal with the Welsh Rugby Union.
Tonie Carroll was the Rhinos’ standout player on the day, bagging a hat-trick, with Kevin Sinfield, Andy Hay and Brett Mullins also touching down.
The win kept Daryl Powell’s men in fifth place, where they were to end the regular season before losing an elimination play-off at St Helens.