It wasn't only the presence of St George, patron saint of the Poms,
which gave yesterday's grand final an English flavour.
The overwhelming favouritism of a team packed with internationals, the
gallant optimism of the underdogs and the early spring weather were all familiar
ingredients of England's Challenge Cup final.
The dominance of Wigan in recent years has turned the English league's top
cup competition into the most predictable event on the calendar, and there was
the same feeling of inevitability as Brisbane set about winning their first
Dress the Broncos in red and white, put a proper roof on the stands, find
a minor royal to present the trophy - and the Sydney Football Stadium could have
been Wembley in April.
And so it turned out, because although St George defied mythology by
joining forces with the dragon rather than fighting it, they couldn't defy the
legends from Lang Park.
The combined efforts of man and beast were never going to buck the Broncos
and all the pre-match fire from St George was seen to be little more than hot
air. At least until it was too late.
The Dragons did well to stay with Brisbane until the interval, but the
half-time rendition of a number from Strictly Ballroom only reminded us that it
was the Broncos who had all the new steps, ably choreographed by Allan Langer.
When Alfie danced through for his second try it was all over, and poor old
Mick Potter must now know how Britain's Chancellor of the Exchequer feels as he
vainly tried to hold the line against wave after wave of speculative attacks.
No-one would dispute that Brisbane were worthy winners, but can the
Broncos monopolise the grand final in coming seasons as Wigan have the Challenge
Cup?Wigan's annual triumphs follow a pattern, and there are some worrying
parallels: every year the opposition coach talks about commitment, concentration
and sticking to a gameplan while the Wigan coach warns his stars against
Every year the experts tip Wigan, then exhaust lorry-loads of newsprint
and credibility explaining how the opposition could win before the match, and
would have won after it.
But relax Sydney, relax. A procession of premierships going north of the
border is unlikely to happen because the game here still bears little
resemblance to its English counterpart.
Everything about Australian league is faster, fitter and more powerful.
Thirteen pumped-up athletes on either side, thundering through the full 80
minutes, is a concept alien to the playing fields of northern England, where,
despite some improvements in recent times, most teams outside the top three or
four still appear to be made up of a couple of stars, four or five enthusiasts
and a ballast of pub lads whose pectorals have slipped to their midriffs.
If Channel Nine's trailer of clashing chests were used to promote the
English game, it would have to be amended to a squelch of beer guts.
With a bigger disparity between the best and the worst, it is easier for
Wigan to dominate. It is inconceivable that two Wembley finalists would not
finish in the top five a year later.
There are less obvious patterns to the English game, more space to run the
ball, and matches are more often won with skill and pace, albeit against
sluggish defences, than lost by a couple of handling and possession errors.
While there is little to choose between the best from England and
Australia, as we will see in next month's World Cup final, a match between the
worst 13 of each league would be a huge embarrassment for the Old Country.
As standards and fitness levels rise, the division between the hemispheres
may be narrowing, but Brisbane's ability to appear Wigan-like among much
stronger opponents is very impressive.
If only we could see a genuine contest between Wigan and Brisbane-a World
Alas, it will never happen. Oh sure, a game might be arranged, but
logistics dictate that one side would be out of season, rusty or tired, and away
So who is best, Wigan or Brisbane? Most would say Wigan. I fancy it's the
Broncos. Perhaps only Gene Miles really knows.