Published in Thirteen, 2005
by Gareth Hodgson
The 1994 World Club Challenge
Brisbane Broncos v Wigan
ANZ Stadium, Brisbane 1 June 1994
Wigan Rule The World
It’s been a busy few months for ex-Wiganers. Andy Farrell has made the jump to rugby union, where Shaun Edwards has further developed his coaching career at Wasps. By contrast, Gary Connolly and Mick Cassidy have extended their careers closer to home. Phil Clarke has combined media work with international rugby league management, and Jason Robinson has seen his media profile soar as he dances through international rugby union defences. Martin Offiah has danced a different kind of dance. Their careers may since have taken very different paths, but 11 years ago they all stood together in the dressing rooms at ANZ Stadium Brisbane on the verge of rugby league history.
On the 1st June 1994, Wigan shocked the rugby league world as they defeated the Brisbane Broncos to become the World Club Champions. In light of the recent World Club wins by Leeds, Bradford and St. Helens, the event may not seem so spectacular, but Wigan arguably had the odds stacked against them more than any British side in this fixture, before or since.
The Broncos had come to Central Park 20 months earlier and walked away with a 22-8 victory, so the prospect of Wigan doing turning the tide in Brisbane, against a side with nine test caps and three additional State of Origin stars, in the middle of their season seemed optimistic at best. Even more optimistic given that Wigan were missing first choice Test props Andy Platt and Kelvin Skerrett, and had second-rower Billy McGinty stepping up to Prop after only four starts that year. In addition, double-winning coach John Dorahy had been sacked, leaving caretaker Graeme West at the helm for the big one.
Immediately showing their determination to challenge the odds, the Riversiders took the lead after only seven minutes as Edwards launched a bomb which Willie Carne allowed to bounce. Denis Betts pounced and showed great skill to place the ball down one handed for the opener, which Botica converted. Within ten minutes, the score was 12-0 as Phil Clarke put Barrie-Jon Mather through a gap, and with the whole of Wigan shouting “Give it to Offiah”, Mather dummied and shot past Wendall Sailor to score. Wigan’s defence was awesome, but eventually breached before half-time when Sailor crossed in the corner to make it 12-4.
Despite the lead, Wigan remained underdogs as the Australian commentators questioned their stamina and ability to maintain their relentless defence but almost immediately a Mick Hancock error was followed by Jason Robinson picking up the loose ball and scampering away to score a third (converted) try. The next twenty minutes saw Hancock and Julian O’Neill cross the line for Brisbane and with twenty minutes to go and the score at 18-14, the Broncos comeback looked on. But Wigan refused to let their line be breached again, their titanic defence held firm, and even extended their lead through a Botica penalty.
As the full-time siren sounded, the 54,220 packed into ANZ Stadium sat stunned that the impossible had been achieved. Quickly forgetting the hurdles that had been placed in front of Wigan, the Aussies pointed to the injuries during the game to Kevin Walters and Steve Renouf as factors for the defeat, with many, including Queensland legend Wally Lewis, criticising the performance of Australian referee Greg McCallum. The Cherry and Whites cared not as Man of the Match Shaun Edwards lifted the trophy, and crowned one of the greatest days for the both the Wigan club and British rugby league as a whole.
BRISBANE BRONCOS: Willie Carne, Wendall Sailor, Steve Renouf, Chris Johns, Mick Hancock, Kevin Walters, Allan Langer, Glenn Lazarus, Kerrod Walters, Andrew Gee, Mark Hohn, Alan Cann, Julian O’Neill. Subs: Peter Ryan, Brett Galea, John Plath, Chris McKenna
WIGAN: Gary Connolly, Jason Robinson, Sam Panapa, Barrie-Jon Mather, Martin Offiah, Frano Botica, Shaun Edwards, Neil Cowie, Martin Dermott, Billy McGinty, Denis Betts, Andy Farrell, Phil Clarke. Subs: Mick Cassidy, Martin Hall, Paul Atcheson