In-depth: The St Helens and Wigan rivalry

After another thrilling encounter recently, we take a look at the rivalry between two of Rugby Leagues most iconic teams….

Paul Newlove, Paul Sculthorpe, Chris Joynt, Paul Wellens, Keiron Cunningham, Martin Offiah, Gary Connolly, Jason Robinson, Andy Farrell, Ellery Hanley.

The list goes on – but they are just some of the names that certainly spring to mind when we think of the great players that have graced the field, whether it be for St. Helens or Wigan.

There are few sporting rivalries as fierce as the one between St. Helens and Wigan. One of British rugby league’s greatest derbies has seen some thrilling match ups throughout an incredible history and ever since 1895 the pair have continuously contested for the ultimate bragging rights making it one of the sports oldest rivalries to date. It is even more amazing to believe that if we go back to the first encounter between the pair it remarkably ended up a 0-0 stalemate at Knowsley Road.

Not only seen as one of the greatest and oldest rivalries in the sport but both Saints and Wigan were both part of the 22 Northern clubs that in 1895 decided to break away from the Rugby Football Union to form the Northern Union and the sport as we know it.

The Warriors would secure a foothold early in a rivalry that was just getting started, as early on Wigan would find themselves securing titles at district and premier level on a consistent basis in the 1920s, 30s, 40s and 50s.

It would be long though before the Saints would start to find their feet with a sense of dominance in the 50s and 60s, winning consecutive Lancashire League and Cups along with several RFL Championships.

The 80s and early 90s however, would see an utterly formidable Wigan side consisting of the likes of Shaun Edwards, Ellery Hanley, Andy Farrell and Martin Offiah win eight titles in 10 years along with winning eight consecutive Challenge Cups between 1988 and 1995.

The birth of Super League not only brought with it a great new dynamic to the game but ignited and brought the local rivalry to a grander stage making seem bigger than ever. Since 1996, both teams have continued to establish themselves as two of the top teams in the country, thanks to a tremendous amount of success and dominance on both parts.

The first ever Super League season would see both teams battle it out to become British Rugby League’s top dogs and with the title decided on league leaders back then, the Saints would come out on top only for the Warriors to finish as runners up.

The early Super League years would show just how fierce the rivalry was becoming with both sides presenting themselves as a dominant force and the two of the top teams to beat. In the space of the league’s first seven seasons, St. Helens and Wigan would win a combined five titles between them (Saints 4, Wigan 1).

Although in those early Super League years, the Saints would find themselves at the top of the pile on number of occasions, the Cherry and Whites would show they should never be discounted. The Warriors would go on to contest the Grand Final on four separate occasions (winning in 1998) as well as finishing as the league leaders twice in Super League’s first seven seasons.

By 2000, the rivalry would come to a head for the first time since the start of Super League when both teams would contest the Grand Final against each other for the first time.

The showpiece event itself would also be the first league final the teams would contest since 1971 when both teams would battle it out in the final for the RFL Championship, with the Red V standing tall that time around. The 2000 Grand Final would see Jason Robinson competing in his last official game for the Warriors, but it would not be the fairy tale ending for the high-flying winger as a double from Saints’ Chris Joynt would secure a third title in five years and a second one in a row for St. Helens.

The early 00s would be a much quieter period from Wigan, compared to the dominance that we had seen so much of in the 80s and 90s. After falling to defeat to the Bradford Bulls in 2003 it would be the last appearance Wigan would make in the Grand Final until 2010.

Despite this they were still able to add to their ever growing list of Challenge Cup wins with a victory in 2002 against who else but their arch rivals St. Helens. The turn of the Millennium would see the Saints regain a sense of control in the North West as they would win the Super League in both 2002 and 2006 along with winning five Challenge Cups in an eight-year stretch (2001, 2004, 2006, 2007, 2008).

However, the 2010 season would see a resurgent Wigan side, also marking the second occasion in which the teams would contest the grand final.The Warriors went into the season looking to end the hurt of three straight final losses to Leeds and they got one over their arch rivals once again, securing their first title since 1998 in a 22-10 win over the Saints, thanks to a man of the match performance from Thomas Leuluai.

It would not be long before they would meet in the Grand Final once again, as in 2014 they would partake in a final that will live long in the memory for any rugby league fan. Tensions already running at a high and only two minutes into the game, a moment of madness from Wigan’s Ben Flower after Lance Hohaia’s late challenge, saw the Wigan man retaliate by punching the Saints hooker consecutive times with Hohaia already out cold.

The referee Phil Bentham having no choice than to give Flower his marching orders and with that the game seemed over before it had even begun. It would be Wigan though that would capitalise after Joe Burgess’s try would give them a half-time lead. But a strong Warriors resistance would eventually be broken thanks to tries from Sia Soliola and Tommy Makinson. A 14-6 win would see St. Helens claim their first win since 2006 and ending a streak of five straight final losses.

In the historic derby’s 123-year history, the side’s fierce rivalry has emulated their stance as the two most successful clubs in British rugby league history and with over 300 competitive games being contested between the two heavyweights, Wigan stand on top with 185 wins to St. Helens 123.

Wigan’s 21 league titles and 19 Challenge cup victories to St. Helens 13 League titles and 12 Challenge cup wins just show the competitiveness of both teams and the will to constantly cement themselves as the best team in the North West and beyond.

1 Comment

  1. Interesting stuff but when a dedicated rl website gets basis facts wrong what hope does the game have , it was saints who lost 3 straight grand finals to leeds not wigan

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