After their promotion back to top flight rugby league in the early 1980s Wigan went on to create a real dynasty. They dominated the Challenge Cup from 1988 to 1995 making the trophy their own.
Wigan began their rise a few years before the 88 final. The club started to recruit top talent from around the league. Take Salford for example. The club had enjoyed good success through the 70s but by the end of the decade it was starting to fizzle out. Looking back Salford should of been the team of the new digital decade. The decade of the 1980s! The Red Devil’s had a team full of young talent including Paul Fletcher, David Stephenson, Colin Whitfield, Paul O’Neil, Ged Byrne, Stewart Williams, Dave Harris, Chris McGreal and Mal Yates to name a few. They also had the experience in Steve Nash and Mike Coulman. For one reason or another things didn’t work out for Salford. A fourth place finish in 1979/80 and a fantastic cup run in 1981 were as good as it got. The bright young talent were sold with Stephenson, O’Neil, Whitfield and Byrne all joining Wigan. Eventually Fletcher left to join Hull.
Wigan spent big and by the middle of the decade they were at Wembley. In 1984 they lost a classic final to Widnes but in 1985 it was their year.
The 85 final will go down as one of the best. Wigan played Hull and both sides were packed with quality from all over the world. Wigan had Australian super star Brett Kenny at stand off and fellow countryman John Ferguson on the wing. Shaun Edwards was a young player with all the talent in the world at fullback. The Airliebirds from Hull had Kiwi test stars Gary Kemble, James Leuluai and Dane O’Hara. They also had their own kangaroo in Peter Sterling. If you’ve not seen that match check it out.
By 1988 Wigan had recruited even more top talent. Ellery Hanley is one of the best players I’ve ever seen and he scored an iconic try in the 88 final. In 1989’s Wembley showpiece Wigan thumped old rivals St.helens 27-0. They also beat St.Helens in 1991, Castleford in 1992, Widnes in 93 and Leeds two years running in 94 and 95. They were invincible! Who would of thought when they rolled into Salford on February 11th 1996 to play a team a league below them that something quite magical was about to happen. It’s a piece of Rugby League history. Salford ended that Wigan cup run with a stunning 26-16 victory.
The Challenge cup is romantic, magical and to me and many other supporters it’s the epitome of our wonderful sport. Both Salford and Wigan have history with the cup and to be honest they couldn’t be much different. Wigan have made the trophy part of the fabric of their foundations. For Salford it’s always been the trophy that’s evaded them. Even the glory years of the 1970s Salford always seemed to get a difficult draw and quite a lot of the time they choked on the big occasion.
Salford supporters have waited patiently through thick and thin to return to Wembley. In fact they waited fifty one years and when they finally got there in 2020 it was so cruelty taken away from them with the match played behind closed doors.
I am a great believer in sport going round in a big cycle. Every dog has its day is another old saying. This time next year and all that. Salford and their supporters will never stop believing that one day the Holy Grail of Rugby League Will once again return to the City.
Challenge Cup record.
2017 Wigan 27 Salford 14 Semi Final Halliwell Jones Stadium.
2009 Wigan 28 Salford 6
2006 Salford 16 Wigan 4
1992 Salford 6 Wigan 22
1996 Salford 26 Wigan 16
1988 Wigan 34 Salford 4 Semi Final Burnden Park Bolton.
1972 Salford 12 Wigan 16
1967 Wigan 6 Salford 18
1961 Wigan 22 Salford 5
1939 Salford 11 Wigan 2 Semi Final Athletic grounds Rochdale.
1910 Salford 12 Wigan 5 round two.
1907 Salford 18 Wigan 5 round two.
They played for both.
Over the years there have been plenty of players who’ve been at both clubs at some point in their career. Here are a few of them,
Mal Aspey, Neil Baynes, Steve Blakeley, Gavin Clinch, Andy Coley, Michael Dobson, Mark Flanagan, Martin Gleeson, Sean Gleeson, Wayne Godwin, Bobbie Goulding, Andy Gregory, Steve Hampson, Terry O’Connor, Ged Byrne, Paul O Neil, Harrison Hansen, Gareth Hock, Nathan Mcavoy, Lee Mossop, Jack Murphy, David Myers, Martin Offiah, Sam Panapa, John Pendlebury, Luke Robinson, Tim Smith, David Stephenson, Trevor Stockey, Ged Stazicker, Scott Taylor, Logan Tomkins, Colin Whitfield, Stephen Wild and Phil Ford.
Jackson Hastings, Kevin Brown, Dan Sarginson, James Greenwood and Jake Bibby can now be added to that list to.
A MATCH TO REMEMBER
Salford 26 Wigan 16, 11th February 1996.
The Willows was absolutely packed as the two sides came out for kick off. I’d never seen the old ground as full before. The Wigan supporters filled the North stand terrace with their cherry and white colours. Salford had beaten Featherstone Rovers in the previous round with Wigan brushing aside Bramley.
Steve Hampson was fullback and other ex-Wiganers Sam Panapa, Scott Naylor and Steve Blakeley were in the Salford side. Former Wigan legend Andy Gregory was doing a fine job as Salford coach building a really useful side. The team had the experience but also had a nice blend of young talent with Darren Rogers, Nathan Mcavoy and Scott Martin.
The reds got off to a thunderous start when David Young followed a Mark Lee kick up to score. With only five minutes played it got the crowd wondering. Although Wigan had two tries disallowed, it was also Salford who scored next, Blakeley’s run sliced through the heart of the Wigan defence before setting up Lee who sent Naylor in for his first try.
Blakeley’s third goal gave Salford a 14 point lead, but Wigan had escaped so many times in the cup when they’d looked dead and buried. Henry Paul and Gary Connolly combined to send Va’aiga Tuigamala in at the corner just before half time.
Salford opened the second half with a second try from Naylor. Lovely flowing rugby league from the reds and Wigan didn’t know what had hit them. Salford were chancing their arm. Passes we’re sticking and the attacking flair had the home supporters believing that this could be history in the making. Martin Offiah grabbed a try but Salford’s cushion was again restored when Scott Martin touched down.
Tuigamala scored his second try in injury time but it was Salford’s day. The hooter sounded and the supporters streamed on to the pitch to celebrate.
After 43 games and nine years Wigan’s domination of the Challenge cup had ended.
The teams that day:
Salford: Hampson; McAvoy, Naylor, Martin, Rogers; Blakeley, Lee; Young, P Edwards, Eccles, Forber, Savelio, Panapa Subs: Burgess ,Davys not used.
Wigan: Connolly; Robinson, Radlinski, Tuigamala, Offiah; Paul, S Edwards; Cowie, Hall, O’Connor, Quinnell, Haughton, Farrell. Subs: Skerrett, Craig.
Referee, David Campbell
Well it was quite a turnaround last week at the AJ Bell Stadium Stadium. A huge moment from a Joe Burgess followed by a fantastic try from Chris Atkin finally got Salford on the front foot. They took the opportunity with both hands to come up with a huge confidence boosting victory over Leeds. Unfortunately for Rhinos coach Richard Agar he’s paid the price with his job. Agar is a very experienced and honest coach who deserved better from his players. For me the cause of the problems at Leeds is much deeper than Agar.
Wigan beat Castleford at home last week in another match full of controversy. Sin bins, set restarts and penalties seem a significant topic at the moment.
Ken Sio will miss the match on Friday after failing his head assessment in Salford’s match against Leeds. It’s a shame for Ken after his try scoring exploits so far this season. The Red Devils have more than a capable replacement in Welsh international Rhys Williams and he is expected to fill the gap.
Wigan do it tough in the forwards and once again Salford’s pack will need to step up. King Vuniyayawa has been sensational so far this season. Alex Gerrard has also come into the squad and been very consistent. I was very pleased to see Elijah Taylor score a try last week. The lad plays his heart out every week for Salford. Tim Lafai has been another very consistent performer and his quality has shown through so far this season.
Wigan have plenty of strike players in their team with Jai Field being one of the most explosive players in the league. He’s blessed with pace and rugby league intelligence. In the back row Liam Farrell gets his fair share of tries with Morgan Smithies and Oliver Partington providing plenty of biff. John Bateman never takes a backward step either. The Warriors have won five from six so far this season but were well beaten in France 28-0 by Catalans.
Salford’s game last week was a bruising encounter and hopefully the players have recovered in time for Friday.
For the winners of this match a place in the Quarter Finals await.
The rest of the matches this weekend in the Challenge Cup are listed below:
Sheffield Eagles v Hull
Whitehaven v St.Helens
Hull Kingston Rovers v Leigh
Catalans v Featherstone Rovers
Leeds v Castleford
Warrington v Wakefield
Barrow v Huddersfield.
Wigan v Salford gets underway at 7:35pm.
Safe travels and enjoy the match.
Big thanks to Steve McCormick for the photos