It’s Warrington, but only just
First published in League Express, Monday 30th Sept 2013
So it’s a Warrington-Wigan Grand Final and I for one can’t wait. Trying to pick a winner isn’t easy, so let’s have a look at some of the key match-ups.
Fullback – Stefan Ratchford v Sam Tomkins
We can’t say much more about Tomkins. It’s his last game in a Wigan shirt, and he’ll be looking to go out on a high. He’ll be one of the favourites for the Harry Sunderland Trophy.
Ratchford has excelled since moving to fullback. If Sam were injured, Stefan wouldn’t look out of place in an England shirt, and he can also move to six or seven if needed. If Warrington are on top, Stefan is easily capable of being a matchwinner, but I think Sam edges this one.
Winger – Joel Monaghan v Pat Richards
It’s Richards’ last game in a Wigan shirt too and he’s certainly one Aussie who’s given full value for money.
He’s been totally outstanding since day one. He’s still a massive try threat and his goalkicking is akin to Frano Botica’s. He’s also excellent under the high ball – a real all round winger.
Monaghan is just an excellent winger who scores tries for fun. He’s the best in Super League at taking high balls and scoring tries. They signed him under very difficult circumstances, but it’s proven to be a great signing, although I think Richards has the slight edge.
Centre – Ryan Atkins v Darrell Goulding
There’s nothing spectacular about Goulding. He’s not the quickest but he’s a great winger’s centre. Defensively he’s very solid and he’s come on leaps and bounds under Shaun Wane. For mine, he has to be a shoo-in for a World Cup spot.
Atkins can be a touch error prone but when he’s on song he’s very dangerous. He likes to feed his wingers and he’s very much a confidence player who can really cause his opposite number problems. He has been a failure in an England shirt though, so maybe there is a big-game concern there. Can he handle the pressure?
Halves – Lee Briers & Richie Myler v Blake Green & Matty Smith
Briers is the complete number six. He’s the backbone of the team and everything comes off him. He gives them a lift when they need it. They’ll need to be patient on Saturday and he will bring that to the fore and we’ll see the best of him.
Myler doesn’t need the creativity because of Briers. He’s a great support player but there do seem to be question marks over his fitness. As a half combination, I think they are better than Wigan’s.
Smith and Green complement each other well. What I like about these two is they don’t play left and right and they still don’t get in each other’s way. I wondered if they would gel, but they certainly have done. Matty has to be the England number seven. The only doubt about them is they don’t have a lot of pace, which is something Warrington have in Myler.
Hookers – Mickey Higham & Michael Monaghan v Mickey McIlorum & Logan Tomkins
Warrington have the right formula here, starting with Higham. He’s excellent in the first 20-25 minutes in all aspects. Tony Smith then brings Monaghan on at just the right time and he cuts the opposition to pieces. Warrington work these two so well.
McIlorum and Tomkins are a totally different combination. McIlorum doesn’t ask too many questions as a scooting hooker, but he’s really aggressive in the Terry Newton mould and Tomkins is very good off the bench. But overall they don’t have the same variation in their play as the Warrington duo.
Second row – Ben Westwood v Liam Farrell
Westwood has been outstanding this season in all areas. He’s got absolutely everything in his game and he causes so much damage on the edges. He’d certainly be in my England 13.
Farrell made a great start to the season but faded slightly. On his day he’s up there with the best in Super League. If Wigan are to win, they need Liam back to his early season form.
Coaches – Tony Smith v Shaun Wane
Both sides have got outstanding coaches. They’re very different characters. Tony is cool, calm and collected while Shaun shows his passion quite a bit more. But even though Tony has a lot more big-game experience, I can’t split them.
I think Warrington will bring home the trophy. They will have learned a hell of a lot from last season’s Grand Final. Whether they try and blow Wigan away, I don’t know, but even if they don’t I think they’ll be patient enough over the full 80 for them to grind out the win.
If Wigan are to win, they have to deal with Warrington’s planned onslaught early on. I think Warrington will have learned from last year and from the Challenge Cup semi-final against Hull and they’ll be patient enough.
I’ll go for a Warrington win by eight points, with Lee Briers man of the match.