Kevin Brown's unforgettable derby debut when Wigan Warriors stunned St Helens in 2003
Watch the re-run of the 2003 Wigan-St Helens Good Friday derby on Sky Sports Arena from 1pm and 9pm on Friday
By Marc Bazeley
Last Updated: 09/04/20 11:39am
Growing up in the divided village of Haydock, Kevin Brown was always aware of what the derby between Wigan Warriors and St Helens means to the area's rugby league fans.
Despite being barely three miles from St Helens, it was the team in Cherry and White hoops on the other side of Billinge Hill which held his affections.
Brown was not the only one in the village to be swayed away from the Ree Vee though, regularly being among those on the terraces at Central Park as a child while some of his friends were watching at Knowsley Road.
"Some of my best friends were St Helens fans and some were Wigan fans, and that's what made it so special," Brown told Sky Sports.
"Both teams were the best clubs in the country and the world at certain times, but so close to each other and that history going back years and years was ingrained into all of us brought up around there."
Brown was later able to fulfil his ambition of playing for the club. What is more, he would go on to make his debut against St Helens in a Good Friday derby - albeit not in the circumstances he would have imagined.
The Warriors had endured a mixed start to the 2003 season, losing three and winning two of their first five matches heading into the Good Friday showdown at home to their fiercest rivals and defending Super League champions.
Added to that was the team being ravaged by injury, meaning head coach Stuart Raper had to turn to some of his academy players for the busy Easter period.
Brown was a late call-up to the side and was joined in the match-day squad by fellow teenagers David Allen and Mark Roberts, plus Orrell rugby union player Jon Whittle who was handed a start on the wing.
Looking back, the now-Salford Red Devils player admits he was questioning whether he even wanted to be involved in the match prior to kick-off.
However, being the victim of dressing room pranks involving Ralgex while having a massage and both Brown and his fellow debutants' pegs being covered in toilet paper served to help take his mind off what he might be facing during the match.
Rather than a calm atmosphere, it was like a circus but it was brilliant because it kept your mind off the game. I was trying to survive in the changing rooms rather than worry about the game
"I warmed up and I remember thinking 'What am I doing here? I'm out of my depth' and hoping he [Raper] didn't put me on at first," Brown said.
"I'd not really played with the team, never mind trained with them and I remember the build-up just being full of nerves and not really knowing what to expect, but then plenty of banter going around from the lads in the changing room.
"Rather than a calm atmosphere it was like a circus, but it was brilliant because it kept your mind off the game. I was trying to survive in the changing rooms rather than worry about the game."
Two tries from Darren Albert, one apiece from Micky Higham and Jason Hooper, plus the goal-kicking of Paul Sculthorpe put St Helens ahead at half-time, but converted scores from Terry Newton and Danny Tickle meant the hosts were still just about in the match at 22-12.
Brown does not remember much about what was said during the break, only that Raper told him he was going on in place of Whittle, who had been having a torrid time out wide under a barrage of high balls from Sculthorpe and Sean Long.
But within 10 minutes, the then 18-year-old had been switched to his regular position at stand-off, with Sean O'Loughlin - still only 20 - going to the loose forward role he has since made his own, and that was when things started to change.
"For me [at half-time], it was 'you're going on'," Brown said. "The rest of the information, I either didn't listen to or can't remember because I was overridden with fear about what Jonny had and now it was my turn.
"One of my first involvements was to drop the ball and I could see a few of the lads look over thinking 'we're going to have a tough day here'.
"But things started to improve, and Stu Raper put me into stand-off and put Lockers to loose forward, and things start to open up for me.
"I was seeing space and all of a sudden I thought 'I can do this', and then my confidence went through the roof and I wanted to touch the ball as much as I could."
Shaun Briscoe got the revival going for the Warriors six minutes into the second half with a converted try following a break from now-Wigan head coach Adrian Lam.
Tickle then kicked a penalty to edge the home side to within two points and they went ahead just before the hour mark when hooker Newton managed to get over for his second try after darting from dummy-half.
It was then all hands to the pump in a defensive effort as Wigan managed to keep Saints at bay, with Allen and Roberts making important try-saving tackles as they held out for an improbable victory.
Brown's performance earned the praises of Sky Sports commentator Mike 'Stevo' Stephenson as well, who promptly bought the youngster a watch to make up for him not being named man of the match by the assembled media that day.
"It was probably the best feeling I've ever had in rugby after that game," Brown said.
"To do what we did with so few expectations, to realise a dream I'd had from being six or seven years old, supporting the club and getting the chance to play against their biggest rival and win the game as well, it was the best scenario for me on debut you could possibly have imagined.
It was probably the best feeling I've ever had in rugby after that game
"It was a fantastic occasion and Stevo made it even better. He highlighted my performance, but I think he felt sorry for me because I was 60kg wet through on that field.
"That's what the derby brings out in you. The intensity goes up, and I think the best things about sport are rivalries and derbies."