I scored one of Wembley's best-ever tries but Wigan ditched me after winning Challenge Cup

Mark Preston believes he was ditched by Wigan after his Challenge Cup heroics because he wasn’t big enough. It was 34 years ago when the Fylde flyer scored twice in their Cup final win over Warrington, including one of the best tries ever seen at Wembley.

He finished that 1989-90 season as top try-scorer with 32 in just 40 games. But Preston found himself back in the reserves just a few months later and was shifted out to Halifax in a £50,000 deal in 1991.

Wigan and Warrington meet again in a Challenge Cup final for the first time since that memorable showdown on Saturday. Preston, who scored 57 in 77 games for one of the most dominant sides in rugby league history, recalled: “I think one of the reasons Wigan got rid of me was John Monie didn’t really like my style of play.

“Because ultimately my key thing was speed and he liked his wingers to play like an extra forward. I played lots of games that year, which was great. And I was scoring lots of tries. But the following season Wigan signed Frano Botica and I spent a lot of time in the second team. They played Frano and played him on the wing. My god he could kick couldn’t he?”

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The former All Black fly-half earned the nickname ‘Botica The Boot’ for his prodigious kicking talent as star-studded Wigan went on to continue ruling the sport. But Preston, 57, has no regrets. Indeed he went on to play for one of the best Halifax sides in decades, racking up 90 tries in 134 games from 1991 to 1996.

He recalled: “I had some fantastic times at Wigan but some brilliant times with Halifax, too.
“They were a smaller club and we’d get some fairly decent crowds. We had great players like Phil Harkin, Gary Divorty, Gary Lord, Dave Watson at half-back, John Schuster and Greg Austin who scored tries for fun.

“There’d be me and Bentos [John Bentley] on the wings, Steve Hampson came from Wigan, too, Paul Moriarty, John Fieldhouse….

“It was a long way for me cos I was living in Lytham at the time but we used to share the lifts from Birch Services and had some good banter to take the edge off the drive.”

In the 1990 Wembley final, when Preston won his solitary Challenge Cup, he was up against former Great Britain star Des Drummond who died aged just 63 two years ago.

He remembered: “Dessie spent most of his time in the middle of the park so he never actually ran at me that often. Thank, God! Because he was a tough cookie. He spent a lot of time wandering into the forwards. When he did tackle he was very strong and quick. Dessie was a top bloke who passed away too soon.”

Preston, one of the most rapid players in the world, was unfortunate not to earn international honours himself. “That year [1990] was the tour of PNG and New Zealand,” he added.

“Maurice Lindsay told me I wasn’t in the squad but he did say I was in a shadow squad for if players did pull out. But I told him I couldn’t go anyway because I was getting married. As it happened, quite a few players cried off but it is what it is. I never did get a look-in.”

Preston won’t be at Wembley on Saturday and admitted: “I find it a bit too defensive-orientated and almost a bit too robotic now. “You don’t see as much creativity. Or as much pace. That’s because wingers are built like brick sh**houses.

“I do still take an interest and I do still watch it but not as much into it as I was. It’ll be a tough game. I watched Wigan v Warrington in Super League on Saturday and that was close. Warrington had a few young lads in there as well. It’ll be a tough one to call.

“I’d probably still put my money on Wigan but feel it will be a close game. A lot closer than in 1990 when we ran away with it in that second half. I’m not going as it’s our wedding anniversary. But I’ll be watching it somewhere.”