Throwback: Rugby League’s greatest upset

Challenge Cup Final 1998: Sheffield 17-8 Wigan

Everyone loves an underdog when it comes to any major final and Sheffield Eagles provided the biggest shock in the history of the competition back in 1998. Wigan were renowned as the ultimate Challenge Cup specialists but they had gone two years without lifting the famous trophy, a long time given their superb record earlier in the decade. Despite that, everyone expected the Warriors to end that drought when they walked out of the Wembley tunnel as huge favourites alongside surprise finalists Sheffield Eagles. However, John Kear and his side had other ideas.

“It was a world class Wigan side with the likes of Kris Radlinski, Jason Robinson, Henry Paul, Andy Farrell and so on,” said Kear. “But we had beaten some good sides on the way to the final and felt confident. We knew if we played to our best we could beat them, we had a great team spirit and a belief that we could upset the odds. People say that Wigan underestimated us that day but that wasn’t our fault, we got off to a quick start, got into the lead and we knew if we did that it would give us every chance.”

Sheffield opened the scoring when Nick Pinkney was assisted by Lance Todd Trophy winner Mark Aston, while Matt Crowther added to that to give Sheffield an 11-2 lead into the break. The second half saw the Eagles carry on where they left off, with Darren Turner going over from dummy half to derail any sort of Wigan fight back. The Warriors could not believe what was happening, and although they did reply through Mark Bell, they were unable to break down a resolute Sheffield defence.

“I’m lucky to have had some great moments in the Challenge Cup but my greatest memory is about eight minutes before the end of this game when I knew we had actually won,” Kear explained. “Henry Paul went to dummy half and dropped the ball, you could see Wigan virtually deflate, we were 17-8 up, there was eight minutes left and we were getting the ball back for a set of six. Johnny Lawless just went up and patted him on the back of the head and you just thought, Johnny knows, the lads know and we know we’ve got this game won. I just sat there, I looked around at the stadium and saw all the sea of colours, the vibrant atmosphere. I saw how the players reacted and that’s my favourite memory because we had beaten all the odds and created history.”

The result, which saw Sheffield lift their first and only Challenge Cup, remains to this day the biggest upset in the competitions’ illustrious history.

*Photos from Varley Picture Agency