Wigan’s British Test rugby league winger, Martin Offiah said he feared for his life when spear tackled twice in the 20-14 World Club Challenge win over the Broncos at Brisbane’s ANZ Stadium, in front of a crowd of 54,220.
The second tackle, by stocky second rower, Alan Cann, was put on report by referee, Greg McCallum.
In a bitter outburst, in a jubilant Wigan dressing room, Offiah said he had landed on the top of his head in Cann’s tackle in the 72nd minute and ended up in the same position in another tackle by Andrew Gee, 14 minutes earlier.
“I’ve been spear tackled before, but not as bad as that,” Offiah told me, in an exclusive interview. “You fear for your life when that happens. You can break your neck. It’s a send-off offence in Britain.”
Wigan’s Kiwi coach, Graeme West said he had not seen the Cann tackle (not sure what he was doing), but Gee’s effort looked like a spear tackle to him.
“Martin’s head went under the body, and I thought that was pretty dangerous,” West said. “But he bobbed up from it and showed he’s pretty resilient.”
Cann was later cleared by an international disciplinary committee, a stunning decision, given the blatant nature of the tackle. The committee members were John McDonald (Australia), Trevor Maxwell (New Zealand) and Jack Hilton (England).
Wigan chairman, Jack Robinson pleaded with the media to concentrate on the good things from the match.
“At the end of the day, there was no damage done,” Robinson said.
That was more luck than good management.
This was my comment at the time, in ‘The Courier-Mail’.
“If he (Offiah) was not such a great, supple athlete, the outcome may have been tragic. The decision in relation to Cann may have been an exercise in international public relations, but it did nothing for the credibility of the code. One day a player could finish a paraplegic, on national television, because the message has not got through that spear tackles will not be tolerated.”.
West, who was in a caretaker role as coach, following the sacking of Australian, John Dorahy, said the win over Brisbane would be regarded as the greatest achievement of a season which included the English championship, a Challenge Cup triumph at Wembley and the premiership final at Old Trafford. The World Club rugby league title brought with it $400,000 in prizemoney.
Wigan led 12-4 at halftime and then an outstanding individual try by young winger, Jason Robinson soon after the break, put Wigan in a commanding position. Former All Black, Frano Botica converted for a 18-4 lead.
But the Broncos weren’t done, with Michael Hancock and Julian O’Neill scoring tries to set-up a tense finale.
The Broncos form going into the match had not been good, with chief executive, John Ribot describing their 26-4 loss to Illawarra four days earlier, as ‘disgusting’.
Wigan were missing Test front rowers, Andy Platt and Kelvin Skerrett with Billy McGinty and Neil Cowie their replacements. McGinty was switching to Workington Town for the 1994-95 season, while Cowie was off contract. Such was Wigan’s depth in the backline, Joe Lydon could not make the 17. Former All Black, Va’aiga Tuigamala spent the entire 80 minutes of the WCC on the bench.
In the main curtain raiser, New South Wales Country under-19s defeated the Broncos under-19s, 24-22 with Nambucca Heads halfback, Gary Jarrett scoring two tries, including the match winner, three minutes from full time, when he followed his own kick.
Broncos five eighth, Ben Walker landed only one goal from five shots, most of them from out wide. Matt Bickerstaff, who would go on to play for the South Queensland Crushers, Cronulla, Canberra and St George, also scored a try for Country.
The other curtain raiser was a Coca Cola Broncos’ South East Queensland Schools Challenge, with Keebra Park defeating fellow Gold Coast school, Palm Beach Currumbin 28-14.
Footnote: My parents, Jon and Lola Ricketts, who lived not far from ANZ Stadium, at Sunnybank Hills, attended the WCC match. It was their first and only visit to the stadium. Their seats were behind the goal posts, way too far from the action for their liking. And, to make matters worse, the pre-match fireworks display left smoke in the atmosphere for 10 minutes, making it almost impossible to see the play.
Photo 1: Martin Offiah (Varley Picture Agency)
Photo 2: Wigan fans in Brisbane