Challenge Cup: Shaun Edwards recalls Wigan's 1985 triumph over Hull FC

By Dave WoodsBBC rugby league correspondent
Wigan beat Hull in 1985 Cup final thriller
Challenge Cup Classics
Date: Saturday, 4 April Time: 13:15-14:30 BST Coverage: Watch on BBC One, catch-up on BBC iPlayer

It's remembered as one of rugby league's golden occasions - a Wembley final that featured world-class stars scoring sensational tries and with a nail-biting finale.

The 1985 Challenge Cup final between Wigan and Hull is one of five classic finals from five decades that will be included a special programme on BBC One on Saturday (13:15 BST).

And although it's now 35 years since that gloriously sunny afternoon in May beneath the twin towers, one of the stars on show that day, a then teenage Shaun Edwards, still has a vivid recollection of a match that was to become the stuff of legend.

"The first kick-off, I remember it was me that hit it up and I got absolutely creamed. I split my lip two or three inches inside my mouth," he recalled.

"Then it was game on. There was immense physicality. If you watch the game back there are a lot of points scored and defences probably could have been stronger, but at the time it felt like it was a very, very tough game."

Match-day mindset

Edwards - the most decorated player in rugby league with 37 winners medals to his name, nine of those from Challenge Cup finals - was only at the start of his career in 1985.

He was only 18 but he had lost in the cup final 12 months earlier when Wigan were beaten by Widnes. That defeat had given him a priceless lesson in how to approach big matches.

"The first time you play at Wembley, you can get taken away by the occasion, what it means to your family and all that kind of stuff," Edwards, now the France rugby union defence coach, told the Radio 5 Live Rugby League podcast.

"(In 1985) I was thinking about nothing but the game. All the other stuff - the occasion, the memories - that's for your family. You're there on business."

Rooming with a hero

Shaun Edwards celebrates a try
Shaun Edwards (left) celebrates his try in Wigan's 1985 Challenge Cup final win over Hull FC

One of the enduring images from that day includes the sight of Wigan winger Henderson Gill racing 80 metres down the left touchline for a first-half score. As he lay on the ball in the in-goal area he flashed a huge, toothy grin before being submerged by his celebrating team-mates. Edwards was first on the pile-up.

"I remember Gilly going the length of the pitch and chasing after him. He was my room-mate, he was one of my best friends in the team," said Edwards.

"He's a guy who only two years ago we were hero worshipping, because I was a schoolboy watching him playing for Wigan. And here I am, his room-mate and playing at Wembley with him a couple of years later."

On the right wing John Ferguson scored one in each half. He'd returned to his native Australia after helping Wigan win at Warrington in the quarter-finals, but flew back for the final. And he's a player who left a lasting impression on his young team-mate.

"John was a fantastic attacking player," Edwards recalled. "He was a great person off the pitch, very laid back, but when it came to game day he was very professional in his build-up. He had a way of preparing.

"Sometimes he'd lie back in the changing rooms and people would think he was asleep. But he wasn't asleep. He was going through different situations in his mind. He was doing visualisation probably before anybody."

Surviving Hull's fightback

But it wasn't just the Cherry and Whites that could boast class across the pitch that day. The Black and Whites of Hull also had some legendary characters in their midst.

"You've got to remember the quality of the opposition. You've got some great players in the opposition team," said Edwards.

"I mean (Steve) 'Knocker' Norton that day, he was just out of this world I thought, absolutely incredible.

"I've watched the game a few times since and the last time I watched it I thought 'how good is this Steve Norton guy?'

"I think a lot of the British players were very prominent on that day. Lee Crooks as well, he was an awesome player."

Wigan were leading 28-12 with over an hour played, and looked certain to win the cup for the first time in 20 years. But an astonishing fightback by Hull almost turned the tide. Three tries in 12 minutes made for an epic finale.

James Leuluai scored two of those - one of them remembered as one of the greatest tries ever seen in a cup final. And Edwards admitted he and his team-mates were nervous.

"Absolutely," he said. "I think Fred Ah Kuoi put James Leuluai into a hole and he just beat me hands down.

"I got too square onto him, as a full-back you always want to push to the left or right, and his step!

"He was just an incredible player, wasn't he? He scored a fantastic try and we were hanging on in the end, no doubt about that, absolutely hanging on."

Wigan won 28-24.

Wigan celebrate with the Challenge Cup
Wigan's 1985 Challenge Cup final victory over Hull FC was the first of nine times they lifted the trophy in an 11-year spell

Ford outshines Australian stars

The final has often been billed as the 'Duel in the Sun' between two of Australia's greatest half-backs, Wigan stand-off Brett Kenny and Hull scrum-half Peter Sterling.

The pair were team-mates at Parramatta and often joined forces in the Australia national side.

Kenny, a try scorer on the day, picked up the coveted Lance Todd Trophy man-of-the-match award in a close run vote with Sterling. But Edwards insisted both were put in the shade by the only English half playing that afternoon, the Wigan scrum-half Mike Ford.

"I think there was way too much made of Brett and Peter Sterling. I thought Mike Ford was the dominant half-back on that day. I thought he overplayed Peter Sterling. And you've got to remember Peter Sterling missed two tackles for two tries," added Edwards.

"Yes, Peter Sterling was an incredible player, and we all had unbelievable respect for him, but I think the dominant half-back that day was Mike Ford."

Edwards' love affair with the Challenge Cup is well documented. When Wigan won the trophy eight years in succession between 1988 and 1995, he not only played in every final, he played in every round. And he takes none of his winners' medals for granted, certainly not the one he won in 1985.

"As a Wigan lad, it was a great thing. I remember being told my grandfather was crying because Wigan had won the Challenge Cup and they'd not won it for so long," he said.

"To play at Wembley once is a great privilege, some great players never get the chance to play at Wembley."

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