In the week of what would have been this season’s Good Friday Derby between Wigan and St Helens, Listen Live co-commentator Bilko (Andrew Rimmer) picks out his top ten derbies to take place at Easter in the last 30 years.
1. Good Friday 1993
No Good Friday could ever be bigger than this one at Central Park. Both sides knew that if they won this game, they would be the league champions of the 1992-93 season. St Helens came into the match two points clear of Wigan at the top of the table, but we had a game in hand and a healthier points difference.
A huge 29,839 crammed into Central Park for the 3pm kick off that amazingly was not televised Live by Sky, who instead were televising a football match between Wimbledon and Crystal Palace.
With only one channel back then, Sky were due to show recorded coverage at 11pm in the evening but the stakes were so high they moved that forward to 5pm before another football match between Sheffield United and Manchester City.
So, by the time Sky got on air the game had already finished but with no mobile phones or internet in those days it was pretty easy to avoid the score.
What ensued was an incredibly tense contest on a boggy pitch in which saw a controversial ending that later led to a rule change.
2. Good Friday 2004
Everyone remembers the infamous brawl on the hour mark of this contest but the game itself was a real see-saw battle.
St Helens had won all their league and cup games up until this match, whereas Wigan had lost three of the opening four league games but had progressed well in the Challenge Cup.
Form certainly went out the window for Wigan who rose to the challenge of the formidable Saints outfit, especially given how we trailed 14-2 during the game.
3. Good Friday 2011
Liam Farrell’s moment here will be remembered for many more years to come but that was the cherry on top of what was already an epic contest between the two enemies. It was a see-saw battle that probably would have deserved a draw.
Saints more than played their part despite having an inexperienced half back pairing of Gary Wheeler and Jonny Lomax whilst also losing Paul Wellens during the game. This compared to Wigan’s luxury of being able to utilise Brett Finch off the bench.
Last minute tries are always special but to do it on Good Friday makes it doubly special.
4. Good Friday 2003
Wigan were in a bit of a mess going into this Good Friday. They’d won just three of their opening six league matches and with Kris Radlinski, Brett Dallas, Jamie Ainscough, David Hodgson, Julian O’Neill, Luke Robinson, Mick Cassidy, Andy Farrell and Gareth Hock all unavailable for selection, prospects looked really bleak.
Such was the desperation, then coach Stuart Raper had to pick four debutants in the shape of Jon Whittle, Kevin Brown, Dave Allen and Mark Roberts.
St Helens meanwhile had just Keiron Cunningham as a big absentee but also came into the game in poor form having also won just three of six matches.
Such was the lack of confidence just 15,607 turned up at the then JJB Stadium but those that ended up choosing not to go missed out on one of the most remarkable Wigan victories of all time.
5. Good Friday 2014
Wigan had won the league and cup double the previous season but Saints had begun this season with eight wins out of eight and had the opportunity to go four points clear of Wigan at this point in the season.
A majestic performance from captain Sean O’Loughlin was the springboard to a dominating pack performance that set the tone right from the start in forcing an error from Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook.
A lot of the talk pre game was about Luke Walsh’s goal kicking standards but ex Saint Matty Smith proved to be the winner here.
6. Good Friday 2012
Having won the last ever derby at Knowsley Road, Wigan now had the opportunity to win the first derby at Saints new Langtree Park.
Despite the absences of Sean O’Loughlin, Ben Flower, Liam Farrell and Lee Mossop from the pack, Wigan would totally dominate with the likes of Chris Tuson, Jack Hughes, Logan Tomkins and Tom Spencer stepping up to the mark.
Gareth Hock and Sam Tomkins were at the heart of this one.
7. Good Friday 1995
The switch to Summer Rugby had been announced the week before so this quickly had become the last Good Friday derby to be played in the winter era.
26,334 were in attendance knowing that victory for Wigan would not only clinch the 1994-95 championship but they’d also lift it after the game. No better way to do it than against the enemy.
Henry Paul’s try from our own drop out highlighting the triumph.
8. Good Friday 2010
It wasn’t known for certain at the time (depending on future cup and play off draws) but this proved to be the last ever St Helens v Wigan derby at Knowsley Road.
For me it was significant not just for that fact but also in the context of Wigan going on to win the 2010 Grand Final against the same opponents. The importance of ending bad runs at both Warrington and Saints early on in that campaign should never be underestimated.
The match was played in wet conditions and it was perhaps the defensive nerve by Wigan during the last 25 minutes of this one that really emphasised those title credentials.
9. Good Friday 2016
Wigan had been dealing with the absences of Sam Tomkins, George Williams and Micky McIlorum for a while heading into this trip to Langtree Park and with Liam Farrell pulling out pre game the task looked daunting, especially with Saints being able to have both James Roby and Alex Walmsley to call upon from the interchange.
Shaun Wane’s side though produced another outstanding efforts on both sides of the ball with an early defensive stand eventually being translated into three tries up the other end.
Two huge breaks from Dom Manfredi were the killer moments in the contest.
10. Good Friday 2005
Its fair to say that 2005 and 2006 were certainly transitional times for Wigan. During the previous off-season huge experience in the shape of Adrian Lam, Terry O’Connor, Mick Cassidy and Craig Smith had left the dressing room and just before this game it was announced captain Andy Farrell would also be leaving to go and play Rugby Union.
Kris Radlinski, Terry Newton, Brett Dallas and Brian Carney were still around but they too soon would end up leaving the dressing room and given the loss of talent it perhaps shouldn’t have been a surprise that the next few years would prove so lean despite Brian Noble’s best efforts until Wigan’s re-emergence under Michael Maguire in 2010.
Given what had happened in 2003, this 2005 Good Friday is barely remembered but I think it was one of the most under-rated wins in my time watching Wigan. A full house was in the JJB to witness this one.