Rating each side’s Super League experience: Wigan Warriors

Wigan entered the Super League era as the dominant side in Rugby League in this country. They had won eight straight Challenge Cups, and six straight Championships.

However, in 1996, they relinquished both their titles. They finished second to rivals St Helens in the Super League and suffered a surprise Challenge Cup exit at the hands of Salford.

Initial Old Trafford success

Wigan won the first three Old Trafford matches of the Super League era. Credit: Simon Whitehead/News Images

They did win the Premiership Trophy though, after a 44-14 win over the Saints at Old Trafford. Danny Ellison scored a hat-trick, and there was other efforts from Gary Connolly, Shaun Edwards, Simon Haughton, Craig Murdock, Henry Paul and Jason Robinson to seal victory for Wigan.

Eric Hughes took over from Graeme West in the 1997 season. They went out of the Challenge Cup in the fourth round against Saints, and finished fourth in the Super League. Wigan did retain their Premiership trophy crown with a 33-20 win over the Saints. Haughton, Robinson, Andy Johnson, Kris Radlinski and Andy Farrell picked up the tries.

Wigan had another new Head Coach in 1998, as John Monie took over. They reached their first Challenge Cup Final of the Super League era, but lost in one of the biggest shocks of all time against Sheffield Eagles.

However, the Super League had entered a new era. Instead of the team finishing top that won it, it would be the playoff winners.

Wigan finished top that year, and also made it to Old Trafford where they would face Leeds Rhinos. They won 10-4. Robinson scored the only try, while Farrell added two penalties.

Despite winning their first title, there was another coaching change in the 1999 season, as Andy Goodway took charge.

They had their first trophy-less season for the first time in 15 years. Wigan went out of the playoffs in the first round against Castleford, before also losing in the Fourth Round of the Challenge Cup against Leeds.

A new era

Wigan Warriors were bought out by Dave Whelan, and moved to what is now the DW Stadium. Credit: Mark Cosgrove/News Images

The Warriors moved out of Central Park in 1999, after Dave Whelan, owner of Wigan Athletic, bought the club. They both moved to the JJB Stadium.

Australian Frank Endacott then took over in 2000, and led Wigan to the League Leaders Shield in his first season. This was the only trophy, as they went out of the Challenge Cup in the Quarter Finals, and lost in the Super League Grand Final against St Helens.

There was yet another coaching change in 2001, as Stuart Raper took charge. They lost in Round Four of the Challenge Cup against the Saints. They finished second and made it Old Trafford, but lost by the biggest margin in a Grand Final, as they were beaten 37-6 by Bradford Bulls.

Wigan then claimed their first Challenge Cup of the Super League era in 2002, when they beat St Helens at Murrayfield Stadium in Edinburgh. Gary Connolly, Brett Dallas and Adrian Lam got the tries for the Warriors.

In the league, they finished third, and were only one game away from Old Trafford, but were beaten by the Saints at Knowsley Road.

Mike Gregory

Raper was then sacked in 2003, with Mike Gregory taking over. However, it was ultimately another trophy-less season as they lost in the semi-finals of the Challenge Cup 36-22 against Bradford. They reached Old Trafford again, but were beaten by the Bulls once more 25-12.

In the 2004 season, Gregory led Wigan to the Challenge Cup Final, although they were beaten 32-16 by St Helens. That was Gregory’s last match for the Warriors, as he travelled to the US to get treatment for an insect bite he picked up in Australia. It turned out he had Progressive Muscular Atrophy, a form of Motor Neurone Disease.

In the meantime, Denis Betts had been appointed as Head Coach on a temporary basis, while the club still employed Gregory whilst he was on sick leave. Gregory then accused Wigan of blocking his return, and took the club to court, on the grounds that they should have done more to aid his return. The case was settled out of court, and Gregory got a £17,500 settlement.

Sadly, Gregory died in 2007, at the age of 43.

Struggles and controversy

On the pitch, Betts guided Wigan back to within one match of Old Trafford, but they were beaten 40-12 by Leeds at Headingley.

In 2005, Wigan missed the playoffs for the first time in the Super League era. Former Saints Head Coach Ian Millward took over as Head Coach in May.

They finished seventh after a poor season. They were also beaten 75-0 by St Helens in the Quarter-Finals of the Challenge Cup at Knowsley Road.

Millward only lasted ten games into 2006 before he was sacked following a 48-10 defeat against the Saints. They had only won two of their first 11 matches. Andrew Farrar and Stuart Wilkinson took charge for their 30-18 defeat against Harlequins, before former Bradford coach Brian Noble took charge.

They finished eighth in the end. But that wasn’t the end of the story, as they were deducted points for a salary cap breach. The breach related to the signings of Michael Dobson and Stuart Fielden.

An audit later found they were over £200,000 over the cap. Maurice Lindsay resigned as chairman a year later.

Wigan got back on track in 2007, as they got back up to third. They started the playoffs with an incredible comeback win at Bradford, but were then beaten by Leeds, who earned a place at Old Trafford.

The 2008 season was very similar. They lost against Leeds in the Challenge Cup Quarter Finals. They were beaten by the Rhinos again in the final game before Old Trafford.

In 2009, they lost in the penultimate games of both competitions. They lost in the semi-finals of the Challenge Cup 39-26 against Warrington Wolves in Widnes. Meanwhile, they lost in the Super League 14-10 against St Helens.

Rise back to prominence

However, come 2010 and Wigan were revolutionised under the coaching of Michael Maguire.

He led them to the League Leaders Shield for the first time in 10 years, and their first Old Trafford visit for seven years.

They faced St Helens for the second time in the Super League Grand Final. They won 22-10 thanks to two tries from Martin Gleeson and efforts from Darrell Goulding and Sam Tomkins.  It was their first title since 1998.

Sam Tomkins played a major part in Wigan winning their second Super League title in 2010. Credit: Craig Milner/News Images

It sealed the perfect season for the Warriors. Tomkins won Young Player of the Year and Pat Richards won Man of Steel.

The success didn’t stop there. They claimed their first Challenge Cup since for seven years in 2011.  They beat Leeds 28-18 at Wembley thanks to two tries from Jeff Lima and other efforts from Josh Charnley, Tommy Leuluai and Joel Tomkins.

Maguire left at the end of that season to join South Sydney Rabbitohs in the NRL. His assistant Shaun Wane took the reins ahead of the 2012 season.

Wane led the club to the League Leaders Shield in 2012, although that was the only trophy they claimed. They lost against Leeds in both the Challenge Cup semi-final and the Qualifying Semi-Final in the Super League.

Shaun Wane lifted the Super League trophy three times as Wigan coach. Craig Milner/News Images

However, a year later, Wane’s side came of age, as they completed a league and cup double- their first of the Super League era.

They sealed the Challenge Cup with a 16-0 win over Hull FC. Tries from Iain Thornley and Sam Tomkins sealed a second Challenge Cup in three years.

Wigan then took on Warrington Wolves at Old Trafford. Tries from Josh Charnley, Darrell Goulding, Blake Green, Mikey McIlorum and Pat Richards sealed a comeback from 16-2 down.

A year later, they were back at Old Trafford, this time to face St Helens. However, an early Ben Flower red card set the tone, and Wigan lost 14-6.

It was a third straight visit to the home of Manchester United in 2015, as they took on a treble-chasing Leeds side, and they went down 22-20.

They finally won again at Old Trafford in 2016 on their fourth straight visit. They came up against Warrington and won 12-6. Tries from Dom Manfredi and Josh Charnley won the match.

2017 saw them back at Wembley, but they lost against Hull FC. They also failed to make the Grand Final for the first time since 2012.

A year later, they were back at Old Trafford against familiar opponents in Warrington. It was another close match, which the Warriors won 12-4. Two tries from Dom Manfredi, and another from Tom Davies won the game.

That proved to be Shaun Wane’s final match as Wigan Head Coach, former halfback Adrian Lam took over.

Transition

Adrian Lam came back to take the Head Coach’s role at Wigan in 2019. Credit Mark Cosgrove/News Images

2019 was transitional for Wigan. They were ninth after Magic Weekend, but managed to claw back to second place. The Warriors then got to within one match of Old Trafford, but lost against Salford.

They started the 2020 season well, and were second at the time of suspension.

The future

Morgan Smithies, 19, has already made 24 Super League appearances for Wigan. Credit: News Images

Wigan are notorious for their academy, and always have at least one new player coming through to the first team.

One in particular, Morgan Smithies, is tipped for big things. He was many people’s tip for Young Player of the Year, but lost out to Matty Lees.

They are one of the best when it comes to bringing youngsters through, they will almost always be given a chance. So long as that talent is nurtured correctly, then there could be some more glory years ahead for Wigan.

Rating

9/10- one of the giants of English Rugby League. They have had their struggles during the Super League, but they have almost always been there or there about for major honours.

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