The Challenge Cup Final
How self-belief and teamwork won the game
Many of the players have said when they think back to the Final that the game was won the night before within a circle of chairs in a room within the Runnymede Hotel.
The Night Before
John Kear asked everyone to visualise how they had prepared for the game in training and to make it a reality. Paul Broadbent, the captain, has described the intensity and the passion at the team meeting that night. Each player had the chance to say what the game meant to them, how much they wanted the win, what they were going to do and why they were going to do it. It was a chance for everyone to be aware of how much a win meant to each of them.
Mind Games in the Tunnel
Many of those in the tunnel that day, as the players were preparing to go out onto the pitch, have said this was another critical element of the victory for the Eagles. There were repeated shouts from the Eagles’ players of “98” and “98, it’s the year of the Eagles”. As John Kear told the BBC in 2020.
The game went to plan, the plan John Kear had created with the players. The first try came after just 4 minutes from a high kick from Mark Aston to the corner where Nick Pinkney beat Jason Robinson in the air to catch the ball and keep hold of it to score, with Aston failing to convert, meaning it was 4-0. It was Wigan that seemed the most nervous whilst the Eagles managed to continue to resist the pressure. The Eagles scored a second try in the 28th minute, after Aston managed to win possession back at the play the ball. He passed straight out to Rod Doyle whose pass went behind Matt Crowther but he managed to pick it up to score, with Aston converting, bringing the score to 10-0. Following a penalty for holding down Wigan managed to score, bringing it to 10-2 before Mark Aston, just before half time, put over a drop goal to keep the pressure on Wigan, with it 11 - 2 at half time.
The second half was when it was expected that Wigan would come out much stronger after the shock of the first half. The Eagles, through Darren Turner burrowing to the line, managed to score first after 51 minutes bringing the score to 17-2. Just 5 minutes later Wigan scored their only try through Mark Bell, meaning it was now 17-8. Was this to be the fight back? To the Eagles’ fans the final 20 minutes seemed to last forever. Wigan threw everything at the Eagles defence but without any success – it was the first time they had lost at Wembley since 1984. The final score was 17-8 and the photos and footage show what it meant to the players.
Photographs are used with the kind permission of the Rugby Football League and the League Express.