First published in League Express, Monday 7th Oct 2013
Wow! That was an unbelievable comeback from Wigan in Saturday’s Grand Final, and I’m still not sure how they did it.
To find yourselves 16-2 down against a top-quality Warrington side, which had hit fifth gear when it really mattered, must have been pretty daunting. Just getting a foothold in the game from a position like that is hard enough, but to completely stop the Wolves playing and winning the second half at a canter was something pretty special.
I rank that as one of the great achievements of the modern era and it was down to the character that Shaun Wane has instilled in this Warriors team. It is magnificent.
Their form since the play-offs began has been superb. They dismantled league leaders Huddersfield far easier than most people would have predicted. They then knocked over the 2012 champions and the kings of semi-final football, Leeds. And now they’ve stuffed a Warrington side who looked for all the world to be within touching distance of the title. And they did it with Sean O’Loughlin not being match fit and with Blake Green only being able to see out of one eye. People will look back on the 2013 Grand Final and talk about a super-human Wigan performance, and deservedly so.
I took plenty of (completely justified) stick for tweeting in the first half that it was game over and that Warrington would win easily. But I doubt that many Wigan fans would have disagreed with me at that point!
It’s hard to pick out individuals after a performance like that, but, for obvious reasons, people will talk about Green’s performance for years and compare it to Shaun Edwards’ Wembley performance in the 1990 Cup Final.
He was superb, and deserved to win the Harry Sunderland award. But Michael McIlorum must have pushed him close. I took plenty of (completely unjustified) stick for saying earlier this year that McIlorum is now England’s best hooker.
I can’t see how anyone, other than a handful of St Helens fans, can dispute that now. He is a brilliant Rugby League player and I hope to see him starting for England against Australia in Cardiff in three weeks’ time.
Matty Smith and O’Loughlin were excellent too, but all of those ballplayers will be buying drinks for their forwards, who did what so few can do these days by getting the better of the Warrington pack.
And then there’s Sam Tomkins and Pat Richards, who have waved goodbye to Wigan in the perfect fashion. Pat’s contribution to the English game since 2006 has been absolutely incredible, while Sam leaves Super League at his peak to try his hand in the NRL, and I wish him all the best.
My last word on Wigan has to go to Shaun Wane. He can go on to become one of the great coaches of the modern era, and I’d love to see him coach England one day. But what about the Wolves? What went wrong? It’s too easy to come to the conclusion that Tony Smith may have taken tham as far as he can, and I say that as a big fan of Tony’s. He’s a first-rate coach, but he has a big job to do now in terms of replacing some big names, but also in terms of rebuilding morale. Last year we could excuse them, as it was their first Grand Final and they came up against the Old Trafford maestros in Leeds. Not so this time.
This was their moment, and they blew it.
And blowing it from such a commanding position will make it all the harder for their supporters to come to terms with.
Lee Briers, one of my favourite players of the Super League era, just didn’t show up, while Adrian Morley, an absolute legend of the modern game, looks to have gone one season too far now. I think more than a few Salford fans may be wondering if his signing will prove to be a wise one. The great coaches are able to rebuild and produce more than one great team, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see Smith back on this stage in a few years but with the trophy in his hands.
Overall, I thought it was an absolutely fantastic advert for Rugby League, and one which has really whetted the appetite for the World Cup. I think it was probably the best-ever Super League Grand Final, even though Wigan scored 28 unanswered points.
I was lucky enough to go to the game – many thanks by the way to Simon Harrison, David Bailey and the many Wigan fans for their excellent company – and I thought that the atmosphere was absolutely fantastic. If you still haven’t got your tickets for World Cup games, then get them now, because there’s nothing quite like watching this great game of ours in the flesh.