Why I am backing Wigan to beat Roosters in World Club Challenge

The first time I played against Wigan there were fireworks off the field and on it. When I got to play for that great club in Super League it lit a fire that still burns brightly within me today.

That is why I will be cheering for the Wigan Warriors against the Sydney Roosters in the World Club Challenge final.

When I finished my career at the Brisbane Broncos I had two seasons at the Warriors and played in two Super League grand finals, years I will never forget.

The Roosters dominated the NRL last year and will be tough to beat. I supported the Tricolours when I was young, but I love the cherry and whites and I am backing Wigan to win.

Adrian Lam is the coach and I got to play with him at Wigan in 2001, along with Matty Johns and Brett Dallas.

I think Lammy is going to get them up for this. He was one of those players who always lived and breathed footy. He was always thinking about and talking footy when we would have coffees or go out for lunch.

It did my head in.

He will know his old club the Roosters inside and out and have a game plan that can get the job done.

The parochialism of the crowd and the chants is one thing that always lifted me when I played at Wigan.

Wigan celebrate their 2018 Super League victory.
Wigan celebrate their 2018 Super League victory. ©Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com

I feel privileged to have played for two glamour clubs – Wigan and the Broncos – where the fans' passion for their teams is very much the same.

A lot of hardened supporters weren't happy when Wigan left Central Park to play at JJB Stadium, which they did the year I got there in 2000, but I remember how we had brand new facilities.  Allan Langer and Andrew Gee were down the road at Warrington where they didn't have those luxuries. The professionalism of Wigan always stood out to me.

The trophy cabinet at Wigan is very impressive and they had a huge display of all of those trophies that they won.

In 1992 the Broncos played Wigan in the World Club Challenge final at Central Park. That was sacred ground and where Wigan had won so many trophies so it was a daunting task for us to play there.

It was a freezing night and Chris Johns came up with an idea to put Deep Heat between our toes to get the blood circulating.

There were fireworks before and during that final, which we won 22-8. The week before I'd played in the World Cup final at Wembley with six of my Broncos teammates. During the next week we decided to have a fireworks display in the hotel car park and the boys went and bought a heap of rockets and we let them off into the night sky.

It was just before Guy Fawkes Night so they were readily available. It was an explosion that rocked Wigan, a glimpse into what was to come in the final.

Steve Renouf in action for the Brisbane Broncos.
Steve Renouf in action for the Brisbane Broncos. ©NRL Photos

Our Broncos forwards were given a licence by Wayne Bennett to let it rip and the likes of Andrew Gee and Trevor Gillmeister took full advantage. There was a free for all when an all-in brawl erupted. GG was in the thick of it.

At half-time Wayne had to tell them to rein it in, but the one thing I remember about that night is that we played some really good attacking footy. I didn't score but I remember well that Julian O'Neill did because I won 100 pounds on him.

Let me say straight up that as players we were allowed to have a wager on the game then and he was paying 10 pounds for first try scorer. I collected, but Julian insisted I hand him 30 quid!

That World Club Challenge win did so much for our profile back then, as I am sure it does today. In 1992 we won the NSWRL grand final and the World Club Challenge, and a lot of us were in the winning World Cup squad, and when I came home all of a sudden everyone knew you. You felt like you'd made it.

Two years later Wigan came to Brisbane to play us again in the World Club Challenge final and they beat us 20-14. They showed their class that night.

I would have loved to have played in the 2001 final but Wigan got beaten by St Helens in the Super League decider the previous season and it wasn't to be.

The good thing was that I got to catch up with the Broncos boys. We'd played a trial against Salford just before that and I got knocked out, but I still went out with them all afterwards.

We had our pre-season bonding session in Edinburgh while the final was on and all the Wigan boys watched St Helens beat Brisbane on television. I copped it obviously, but I recall watching it with guys like Andy Farrell, Kris Radlinski and Terry O'Connor, all really good blokes. Those Wigan years really left their mark on me. They are fond memories.