World Cup hero Jason Robinson says winning first ever rugby league Grand Final with Wigan in 1998 was his finest hour
JASON ROBINSON won every honour as a rugby league superstar before becoming an England World Cup-winning hero when he switched codes.
Yet of all the winners medals in his glittering career, few top the one he collected from Wigan’s victory in the first ever Grand Final 20 years ago.
It was the Super League’s revolutionary new plan to decide the champions, controversially replacing the traditional table-topping method in place for a century.
Since then it has grown to rival the Challenge Cup final as rugby league’s biggest day. And Wigan’s 10-4 Old Trafford win over Leeds in 1998 remains one of THE highlights of Robinson’s life.
Robbo, who won 16 major trophies in eight years at Wigan, recalled: “There were real mixed feelings because we could end with nothing despite finishing top of the table.
“We had already lost one final when Sheffield beat us in the Challenge Cup, which was probably the worst defeat of my career because they were such big underdogs.
“At Wembley, we thought we’d just turn up and win and even at 80 per cent would probably have beaten them — but we didn’t even scrape half that.
“I think that helped us against Leeds. We knew we had to be right on it and we all wanted to be part of history and the new concept.
“Big Richie Blackmore scored the first try for them. And there was hardly anything in it when Kris Radlinski took the ball out to the right touchline.
“I just took it looking to drive another one in but, with my style of running, being small and good on my feet, I got between two, went outside Iestyn Harris and under the posts.
“We hung on, Andy Farrell kicked three goals and it was a great memory.”
In truth it was a little tougher than that, down in no small part to coach John Monie’s attention to detail.
Leeds were a physical team and, as part of his masterplan, Monie told Wigan doc Ansar Zaman to just put butterfly stitches in any head wounds.
Players were then told to nick the stitches after a while, forcing them to come off as a blood-bin replacement, thus saving them from counting on the substitutes’ quota.
It worked so well that by half-time every Warriors player had a run and managed to stay fresh, which, in the wind and rain, proved to be the deciding factor.
Yet to Robinson, who actually lived with Monie for six months when he first arrived as a 16-year-old, nothing surprised him about the Aussie coach. And the Leeds-born ace credits Monie more than anyone for his fantastic career.
Robbo, 44, added: “John was the best I played under in either code.
“He spotted everything, was so meticulous and commanded respect from everyone — and we had some big characters.
most read in rugby league
“I joined Wigan as a young scrum-half but there used to be a seven-a-side tournament before the season, which I played in before I got in the first team.
“John saw enough — whether it was footwork or speed — to convince him I was going to be a winger and I was there or full-back from then.
“Had I stayed half-back, my career wouldn’t have been anything like how it turned out.”
So how does he see tomorrow’s final between his old team and huge rivals Warrington?
In Robinson’s eyes there will only be one winner. He added: “It’s massive, it will be really tight but I’ll be cheering Wigan — once a Pie Eater always a Pie Eater!”
- JASON ROBINSON is an ambassador for CoCoFuzion — nature’s everyday rehydration powered by coconut water. Visit cocofuzion100.co.uk