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History to inspire Scots against Kiwis

NRL.com Wed, Nov 13, 2013 - 9:20 AM

Scotland may be long-shots to survive against reigning World Cup champions New Zealand this weekend, but forward Oliver Wilkes is well aware shock upsets have happened before.

As an 18-year-old, Wilkes travelled with the Sheffield team that pulled off arguably the biggest shock in English rugby league history against Wigan in the 1998 Challenge Cup at Wembley.

The Scotland veteran – who first represented his country in 2003 – said that win was built on the performances of Sheffield halves Mark Aston and Dave Watson. He drew a comparison with the talented halves of this Scotland side, with Super League Man of Steel Danny Brough teaming up with Panthers-bound former Bronco Peter Wallace.

"I don't think Mark Aston was in the same league as Danny Brough is, and Peter Wallace is an elite player in the NRL," Wilkes said. "As a pairing, you'd put Danny and Peter in the top four or five in the world, whereas Watson and Aston might only have been in the top 20.

"At the end of the day, the bookies will give us a 30-point start, but we'll prepare the best we can. We have two quality halfbacks who will turn them around, and as long as we can hold them in the middle and our fringe men can finish things off, we'll have a chance. 

"No Scotland team has made a quarter final in a World Cup, so to do what we've done is unbelievable."

As Scotland gear up for the biggest of challenges on Friday night when they play the world champions, New Zealand, at Headingley Carnegie Stadium in the quarter-finals of the World Cup, one of their number is more than aware that anything can happen on the big day.

Oliver Wilkes may not have played for Sheffield when they famously beat Challenge Cup kings Wigan at Wembley in 1998, but he travelled with the Eagles party and watched his club-mates pull off a sensational 17-8 win, which is widely regarded as the biggest shock result in domestic rugby league history.

Sheffield's success that day was built on the magnificent performances of their halfbacks, Mark Aston, who won the Lance Todd Trophy as man of the match, and Kiwi stand-off Dave Watson. And, encouragingly for Scotland, Wilkes is adamant that their halves, Super League's Man of Steel, Danny Brough, and Peter Wallace, are a much better pairing than Aston and Watson.

"I'd only moved to Sheffield the week before - leaving a trade to play professional rugby, which was a huge thing for me - and went to the final which was played on my 18th birthday," recalls Wilkes, who made his 15th appearance for the Bravehearts in the win over the US. "I don't think Mark Aston was in the same league as Danny Brough is, and Peter Wallace is an elite player in the NRL. As a pairing, you'd put Danny and Peter in the top four or five in the world, whereas Watson and Aston might only have been in the top 20.

"At the end of the day, the bookies will give us a 30-point start, but we'll prepare the best we can. We have two quality halfbacks who will turn them around, and as long as we can hold them in the middle and our fringe men can finish things off, we'll have a chance. No Scotland team has made a quarter final in a World Cup, so to do what we've done is unbelievable."

Wilkes has played for Sheffield, Huddersfield, Leigh, Wigan, Harlequins and, most recently, Wakefield in a length career in England, and will return to the second tier next season with a second spell at Leigh.

"Playing in the knockout stages of a World Cup is the elite for a player," he said. "I've played in a Challenge Cup semi-final and in Championship and Northern Rail finals, but nothing compares to facing the world champions at Headingley in the quarter finals of the World Cup. 

"At 33, I thought my days were numbered for playing against the world's best. Provided I'm selected of course!

"I knew it would be a tough group with Italy being full of Australians, and Tonga also having an NRL-based squad. But we knew what we had in the halves would stand us in good stead. As soon as we sorted out a few small areas, we knew we would be able to compete. 

"Everyone in the squad has stood up to be counted, and I'd like to mention Dave Scott who missed the first two games but who then got picked against the USA. He made so many metres and try-saving tackles and you can't ask for more than that."