Dave Craven: Return of Edwards evokes memories of Wigan's golden days

SO, be honest, what was your initial thoughts when you heard Shaun Edwards was returning to Wigan Warriors?

Shaun Edwards
Shaun Edwards

Me? I just had images of the old VHS I used to watch so religiously as a kid (along with BBC’s 101 Top Tries and some Scrumdown offering) of one of their many glorious seasons in Edwards’s heyday.

Kevin ‘The Beast’ Iro was on the front sleeve of The Wigan Treble along with a shot of Ellery Hanley and John Monie with the Challenge Cup.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

It was highlights of ‘Wigan’s greatest ever season 89-90’ when they also lifted the championship and Regal Trophy.

Martin Offiah had not joined by this point. Mark Preston was on the left wing. Offiah will go down as one of the sport’s greatest-ever wingers but remember how exhilarating that flier Preston was to watch?

Anyway, central to their success that year – and for so many during that golden period – was the midfield axis of Hanley, Andy Gregory and Edwards.

I remember re-watching that video so many times and being simply mesmerised by the sustained brilliance of them all.

Edwards became the sport’s most decorated player when, after joining Wigan on his 17th birthday for a staggering £35,000 (this was 1983), the prodigious 
talent went onto win a record eight league titles, nine Challenge Cups and a raft of Great Britain caps.

Also, there was that fabulous night in Brisbane in 1994, when Edwards inspired Wigan to a famous World Club Challenge victory over Wayne Bennett’s star-studded Broncos.

Plenty of people always thought he would one day return to the Cherry and Whites to coach his beloved club.

Yet, with every year he spent in rugby union, where Edwards carved out a new reputation as one of that code’s finest coaches, the likelihood diminished.

Indeed, it is remarkable to think the turn of the century was his last involvement in rugby league; after retiring with London Broncos in 2000, the following year he became London Wasps’ defence and backs coach.

By 2005, with Wasps the dominant force in English rugby, he was the obvious choice to be promoted as Warren Gatland’s successor as head coach and he brought a second Heineken Cup title as European champions.

Edwards went onto become an integral part of Gatland’s Wales set-up and also coached with the British Lions, proving one of the most respected and, at times, pioneering coaches in the sport.

It is his love and respect for the Welsh public that means he won’t return to Wigan until 2020, after his duties are fulfilled at next year’s World Cup, although he will be spending as much time as possible in between with interim coach Adrian Lam, the Papuan who is a legend in his own right.

There will be question marks about whether Edwards has been out of the game too long to really take Wigan forward. Personally, I don’t think that will be an issue; Edwards – now 51 – has always proved adaptable and the game hasn’t changed that much in his time away.

Speaking to him a couple of times in recent years, I always left thinking just how much he clearly still loves the sport.

Anyone watching The Wigan Treble will be reminded of his innate ability and understanding of it as a player when, let’s face it, he essentially coached that brilliant team out on the field.

It is great to have him back in rugby league; it is a boost not just for Wigan but – being such a character, too – the sport as a whole.