Published in Thirteen in 2005
Stones Bitter Centenary Championship
Leeds v Wigan
Friday 3rd November 1995, Headingley Stadium
Loiners open up title race
Wigan were their usual brilliant selves in 1995-96, averaging a fantastic 46 points a game. In their other big game of the season they had thrashed St Helens at Knowsley Road 52-20 after opening up a huge half-time lead.
They went into this game against Leeds unbeaten and four points ahead of their opponents. Leeds had to win to keep the title race alive.
The Centenary World Cup had just ended and Leeds needed to capitalise on the fact that a significant number of the Wigan squad had played for England in the final the previous Saturday in their loss to Australia. Two had also played for Wales in the semi-final the previous week. In contrast, every man in the Leeds 17 had had those weeks off.
Whatever the reasons for Leeds’s victory, this was one of the highlights of the rather strange Centenary Season. The only score of the first half was a length of the pitch try from Jason Robinson up the North Stand touchline; intercepting from Garry Schofield. The norm for that season was for high scores resulting from poor defence and tiredness. The players were playing twice most weeks and it was beginning to tell. Steve Simms, the Halifax coach, even called for the season to be ended early.
Left out of the England squad, Schofield had a point to prove. Great Britain’s joint leading cap holder had been forced to watch as the Australians had beaten us again when it really mattered. With the Green and Golds’ Super League-signed stars absent, this seemed to be a real chance for England to win the World Cup, but the final was a drab affair as England failed to break down the Australians’ defence. Schofield, observed many experts, could have done just that.
So inadvertently setting up a try for Robinson wasn’t the best way to prove himself, but he made amends by finishing off a move just into the second half involving Nick Fozzard and James Lowes – two players who since have made names for themselves elsewhere.
His kicking game continually turned the Wiganers around and kept the pressure on them. He helped create a try for Alan Tait and the game was sealed with further tries to George Mann and Paul Cook. Cook gained the biggest cheer of the night by landing a superb touchline goal from the South Stand side before Schofield ended the scoring with a drop goal.
Only Francis Cummins and Barrie McDermott went on to play major roles in the Super League era for Leeds as opposed to Radlinski, Robinson, Connolly, Paul, O’Connor, Cassidy and Farrell for Wigan – their team was broken up. James Lowes went to Bradford to play hooker and not second row, Garry Schofield joined Huddersfield and Craig Innes went on to win a Premiership at Manly.
At the time it looked like Leeds were entering the new era of rugby league with a genuine chance of being top dog but things started to go wrong. They were to finish in tenth place above only Paris St Germain and Workington Town, where future Leeds coach Tony Smith was playing stand-off, in the inaugural Super League campaign. Ultimately the win over Wigan the week after the 1995 World Cup Final was to be another false dawn but it was a magnificent night for everyone present with the South Stand at its buoyant best.
LEEDS: Paul Cook, Jim Fallon, Kevin Iro, Craig Innes, Francis Cummins, Tony Kemp, Garry Schofield, Neil Harmon, Mick Shaw, Barrie McDermott, George Mann, James Lowes, Gary Mercer. Subs: Graham Holroyd, Alan Tait, Nick Fozzard, Mike Forshaw.
WIGAN: Kris Radlinski, Jason Robinson, Va’aiga Tuigamala, Gary Connolly, Martin Offiah, Henry Paul, Shaun Edwards, Kelvin Skerrett, Martin Hall, Terry O’Connor, Simon Haughton, Mick Cassidy, Andrew Farrell. Subs: Barrie-Jon Mather, Scott Quinnell, Andy Johnson, Craig Murdock.