THROUGHOUT THE late 1980s and early 1990s Wigan were Leeds’ nemesis.
The Loiners had a star-studded team for much of that period and in any other era would probably have filled their trophy cabinet with silverware.
Unfortunately, Wigan’s side was even more packed with talent and their full-professional operation made them not only the best side in this country, but arguably the world.
Leeds rarely got the better of the Cherry and Whites during that era, but one of their few successes came 26 years ago this week.
On December 12, 1987, the British game’s two giants met in an eagerly-anticipated John Player Special Trophy semi-final at Bolton Wanderers’ Burnden Park ground. And for once, it was the Loiners who came out on top, with a magnificent 19-6 success.
Leeds had warmed up in impressive style with a 44-0 league win over Castleford the previous week, giving coach Maurice Bamford some welcome selection headaches.
Whether they could repeat that form on the big stage – after eight successive semi-final defeats in various competitions, stretching back over four years – was the big question.
The game began badly for Leeds as prop Lee Crooks suffered a dislocated shoulder after only two minutes.
Then Steve Hampson crossed to increase Wigan’s lead – after an early David Stephenson penalty – and it seemed a case of ‘here we go again’ for the Leeds support in a 13,588 crowd.
With Crooks sidelined, Leeds needed their other forwards to step up and – led by Australian Test prop Peter Tunks – they did.
David Heron and Kevin Rayne – who had replaced Crooks – set a platform and eventual man of the match Paul Medley stormed over to break Leeds’ duck, Colin Maskill’s touchdown levelling the scores at the break.
Ray Ashton nosed Leeds in front with a smart drop goal early in the second half, but Wigan seemed set to regain the lead when Great Britain winger Henderson Gill set off on a run from Stephenson’s pass.
Full-back Marty Gurr saved the day with a stunning tackle to hammer the winger into touch and from then on it looked like being Leeds’ day.
Garry Schofield scored a brilliant individual try and Maskill added the extras to make it 13-6 and then Schofield and Aussie Steve ‘Slippery’ Morris combined brilliantly to carve out a late touchdown for Maskill, which the hooker also converted.
It was a sensational win for Leeds, who had an outstanding performer in Roy Powell, but the Trophy run was to end in disappointment as they were pipped 15-14 by St Helens in the final at Central Park, Wigan, despite dominating for much of the game.