Jason Robinson: World Club Challenge memories with Wigan Warriors and “best ever” win versus Brisbane

Ross Heppenstall
Jason Robinson Wigan Warriors 1994 Alamy

Jason Robinson in action for Wigan in 1994

It remains one of the greatest triumphs for any British team on Australian soil, and Wigan legend Jason Robinson rates it as one of the finest chapters of his glorious career.

On June 1, 1994, the Cherry and Whites famously beat Brisbane Broncos 20-14 in the World Club Challenge to become the best rugby league club side on the planet.

Robinson was among Wigan’s try-scorers as they turned over Wayne Bennett’s side in their own backyard to clinch the coveted title.

The match was played at Brisbane’s ANZ Stadium in the middle of their 1994 season in front of 54,220 fans, which remains the biggest attendance for a World Club Challenge.

All-conquering Wigan were already unstoppable domestically at the time and the talent within their ranks was formidable.

Take the likes of Gary Connolly at full-back, Robinson and Martin Offiah on the wings, Frano Botica and captain Shaun Edwards in the halves, and a back-row consisting of Denis Betts, Andy Farrell and Phil Clarke.

In a week where Matt Peet’s men are aiming to win the trophy to equal Sydney Roosters’ record of five world titles, Robinson was happy to bathe in nostalgia.

The 49-year-old told Love Rugby League: “To play against Brisbane back in the day, against a team containing the likes of Steve Renouf, Michael Hancock, Wendell Sailor, Glenn Lazarus and Allan Langer was tough.

“To do it in England would have been difficult, but even more so in Brisbane and I think everyone had written us off.

“We had come off the back of a demanding season and were missing some key players like Kelvin Skerrett and Andy Platt, our first-choice props.”

‘It goes down as one of the best games I’ve ever been involved in as a league or union player’

Jason Robinson Wigan 1994 Alamy
Jason Robinson, known as Wigan’s Billy Whizz, on the charge for the Cherry and Whites in 1994

Nevertheless, a team coached by former Wigan captain Graeme West produced an outstanding display to win the match with tries from Betts, centre Barrie-Jon Mather and Robinson.

Botica kicked four goals and Edwards was named man of the match as Wigan ran out worthy victors in the first World Club Challenge to be held in Australia.

Players like prop Neil Cowie, a teenage Farrell and the relentless Clarke rose to the occasion.

“When we went out to Brisbane, we were given a few days to acclimatise and let our hair down,” remembered Robinson. “The boys enjoyed Brisbane for two or three days so that was interesting!

“Graeme West had just taken over and said ‘look, when it comes to gameday, make sure you get your head on the match’.

“We realised the enormity of the task ahead and some of the comments from the Australians beforehand seemed to suggest we were just lambs to the slaughter.

“Thankfully for us, it didn’t turn out that way. We managed to keep the huge crowd relatively quiet and managed to shock the Australian public – and certainly the Brisbane team.

“I don’t think they expected us to come out the way we did, scoring through Denis and B-J plus I managed to get one myself.

“We just built momentum and came out with an historic win – it was huge for us and it goes down as one of the best games I’ve ever been involved in as a league or union player.

“Winning the World Cup in 2003 superseded everything but, in terms of club games, 1994 in Brisbane was the best I ever had. It’s now coming up for 30 years since we beat the famous Brisbane Broncos in Brisbane. Wow, that’s unbelievable.”

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‘Brisbane underestimated us and paid the price’

Robinson was still a teenager at the time and turned 20 the following month.

“The 1994 World Club Challenge was a big thing for me because I had been dropped by John Dorahy and I don’t think I was his favourite,” said the iconic former dual-code international.

“When Graeme West took over, I got reinstated so it was huge for me to score a try and I think we perhaps even surprised ourselves a bit.

“But it was a team that was full of confidence because Wigan in the 1990s were known for winning the big games, as that year showed with all the trophies we lifted.

“Certain games define you as a team and 1994 in Brisbane certainly did.

“We had a lot of world-class players in the team and were the Brisbane of the UK – it was as simple as that. Brisbane underestimated us and paid the price.”

After the game, the Australian media made a plethora of excuses for the result but Bennett had the decency to pay tribute to Wigan, who regained the trophy they had won in 1987 and 1991.

Bennett told reporters: “I couldn’t fault our blokes for effort, but again mistakes proved costly. Wigan saved a lot of tries.”

Captain and man of the match Edwards said: “When Australian teams come to England for the World Club Challenge game, they have lots of excuses about having been out celebrating since winning the Premiership.

“We’ve come all the way to Australia and they’ve still got excuses. I find that mystifying. They’re now talking about being tired from State of Origin matches and having played last Friday night.

“Their schedule of matches over (here) is nothing like ours.”

The mouth-watering challenge for Wigan Warriors against Penrith Panthers

Nathan Cleary Penrith Panthers Alamy
Nathan Cleary (centre) celebrating Penrith’s Grand Final sucess in 2023 with his team-mates

Fast forwards 30 years and Peet’s Super League champions are bidding to slay Ivan Cleary’s Penrith Panthers side on Saturday and reclaim their status as the best club side in the world.

Robinson, who is set to be in attendance at the DW Stadium for the match, said: “Matty’s done a fantastic job and he understands what has gone before and the expectations of the club and the fanbase.

“He’s won the Challenge Cup and a Grand Final in the past two seasons but this is the big one. Penrith have some world-class players and it’s going to be a huge challenge for WiganBut Matty will believe they can get the job done and add to a very long list of achievements at the club.

“But it’s going to be physical and Penrith have one of the best half-backs in the world in Nathan Cleary, so they need to keep him and a few others quiet.

“Wigan need to come out of the blocks firing and I’m sure they will. Hopefully they can get an early score and build momentum during the game.” 

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The Jason Robinson Foundation: ‘It’s something I’m very passionate about’

Robinson is rightly proud of his amazing achievements in both codes of rugby, having risen from humble beginnings in his native Leeds.

He now runs the Jason Robinson Foundation, which works predominantly with children and young people who experience barriers to learning, opportunity and employment.

Together with schools and communities, the Foundation delivers bespoke programmes, events, and outreach, volunteering, and training initiatives that promote equality, social inclusion, and opportunity for all.

Robinson said: “I’ve always I said I feel blessed to have played sport because it has given me so many opportunities.

“But I also realise that a lot of challenges that young people still have, especially in deprived areas, and the Foundation is doing some great work.

“Not only in coaching kids but breaking down some of those barriers – we’re giving out clothing, trainers and boots because we know the impact that sport can have physically, mentally and emotionally.

“We’re starting to get some great partners on board to help give us the funding we need to deliver what we do. It’s something I’m very passionate about.”

For information on the Jason Robinson Foundation, visit Jason Robinson Foundation | Dare to try (jr-foundation.co.uk)

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