SUPER LEAGUE GRAND FINAL
WARRINGTON WOLVES 16 WIGAN WARRIORS 30
TIM BUTCHER, Old Trafford, Saturday 5th Oct 2013
Shaun Wane’s grin was as wide as the Manchester Ship Canal as his Wigan side completed the League and Cup double in spectacular style, looking almost dead and buried when 16-2 down just before half-time before blasting back with 28 unanswered points.
“I was expecting a few apologies, to be honest, after everyone had written us off and said that we weren’t going to win anything,” he quipped at the post-match press conference.
“We got hammered pre-season when everyone said we couldn’t carry on with Matty (Smith) and Greeny (Blake Green) and we’ve just kept proving people wrong.”
Wane and his side have proved their point emphatically with this win, backing up the 16-nil defeat of Hull FC at Wembley, though in a starkly different game to the rain-soaked Challenge Cup Final.
Grand Final night was warm and dry and the ball handling – and the defence – was a joy to behold. The first handling mistake came in the 35th minute of the game, and there weren’t many after that point either.
Until then Warrington, with a perfect completion rate, had been the dominant team, especially during a ten-minute spell in which they scored three tries and countered the threat of the Warriors’ trademark wide plays with brilliant organisation and fearless commitment. But, from then on, the tide was with Wigan.
The Final had a pattern seen in Wigan’s 22-8 win in the Qualifying Play-off at Huddersfield. Keep patiently running those wide plays and eventually they will reap tries. And that’s just what they did again on Saturday night.
That was the message Wane gave his men at half-time, revealing: “I knew that we could play better and when I got in (the changing rooms) all the players were already talking about that, so there wasn’t a lot more to be said.”
The Wolves’ chances slipped away in the 51st minute when Stefan Ratchford was helped off, having already lost Joel Monaghan to a heavy concussion just before the break, though coach Tony Smith, who had opted for Ratchford instead of Brett Hodgson at fullback, reckoned he still had the personnel to win the game.
“We can’t be decisive about that, you would hope to be able to handle those situations as well,” he said.
“We weren’t able to tonight. The second half, field position hurt us more than anything rather than positional changes. Wigan are fantastic at scoring close to the line.”
Matty Smith’s kicking and work at pivot was paramount but he was edged for the Harry Sunderland Trophy as man of the match by his halfback partner Green, who finished the game with one eye totally closed after a sly punch from Ben Westwood in the first minute of the game.
Michael McIlorum garnered a few votes for the award with a tireless effort around the ruck, scoring a try himself and having a big hand in the one for Green in the second half.
It was rip-roaring stuff from the opening seconds.
Smith’s early bomb was juggled by Ratchford and on the left Green lay prone after a tackle by Simon Grix and Westwood. Green had received a blow to his right cheekbone and video replays clearly showed Westwood punching him in the tackle. Westwood went unpenalised and the incident was put on report.
Green took a while to recover his senses after treatment from the doctor, with coach Wane saying in the post match press conference that he was “pissed off that he stopped down for so long. I wanted him to get up and carry on.”
Lee Briers’ early bomb was taken by Tomkins, an early indication that Tomkins was going to at his most poised all night, before Wigan got Darrell Goulding clear from their own half, although Chris Riley managed to get a finger to the pass that would have surely sent Josh Charnley into the right corner.
Down the other end Myler’s seemingly unthreatening crossfield bomb saw Goulding trapped in-goal by Ryan Atkins, shortly after Chris Bridge had bullocked his way through Green on a fine break down the right. Tomkins managed to stop Chris Hill’s charge for the line just short and then Joel Monaghan couldn’t collect Briers’ bomb to the right-side in-goal.
It didn’t stop them trying again ten minutes later when Monaghan the younger leapt high above Pat Richards to knock the ball with one hand and then collect to score, as the Wolves took a 4-2 lead, Ratchford unable to add the touchline conversion.
Wigan had taken the lead in the 10th minute when Richards kicked a 42-metre penalty goal after Mickey Higham gave away the first penalty of the game for a ball steal on the non-stop Liam Farrell.
The early advantage looked likely to spur Wigan on to an ascendancy, Green kicking a 40/20 to get them back on attack immediately; Briers cutting down Farrell as he fired for the line and Goulding’s grubber to the right corner for Charnley being blocked and then regathered by Riley.
It was end-to-end, relentless. Briers’ grubber to the posts was collected by Tomkins and then Farrell just managed to grab Chris Hill as he stepped McIlorum and raced away from his own ’20’.
Joel Monaghan’s try changed the complexion of the game. His try had come after Charnley was penalised for picking up Myler and dragging him into touch after he had blocked Tomkins’ kick down the right and Higham had almost burrowed over by the sticks.
Within seven minutes the Wolves had sailed into what looked an insurmountable 16-2 lead.
Richards put the restart straight into dead and the Wolves needed no second invitation to get back to the Wigan line as Higham’s delayed pass from dummy half sent Simon Grix to the line despite Smith and O’Loughlin’s desperate tackle.
Ratchford goaled that try and it seemed only a matter of seconds before Westwood was being put through the right channel by Briers’ pass and he ducked under the flailing challenges of McIlorum and Tomkins for another six-pointer.
Richards made amends for his earlier faux pas by bouncing his next kick-off dead.
It was one of several key moments in the game, stopping the Wolves’ momentum.
Charnley was tackled into touch in the right corner by Myler, Grix, Ratchford and Atkins and Ben Flower’s high tackle on Michael Monaghan gave Warrington the chance to have another crack, Ratchford guilty of crossing on a wonderful attack from a free play, and then the Wolves turning down the chance for an easy two points when Harrison Hansen was pinged for interference in a kickable position, the penalty count now at 5-1 in the Wolves’ favour.
Should they have kicked the goal? Their attack was so good at this stage, to run the ball was highly understandable, and they could have scored again, Bridge tackled into touch a couple of metres short of the right corner by a brilliant tackle from Iain Thornley.
Instead, Warrington’s discipline started to slide, Garreth Carvell, who had just come off the bench for his Warrington swansong, was penalised for a high tackle, although Goulding’s dinked pass to Charnley on the Wolves line went behind him.
But Ratchford’s pass from dummy half for Westwood was a mile forward and straight from the scrum Atkins was pinged for a ball steal on Hansen. Hansen was stopped just short and Richards’ charge was stopped by the unfortunate Joel Monaghan, who got his head in the wrong place.
The medicos were taking no chances and it was seven minutes before the winger was carried off, the full length of the pitch, on a stretcher. The remaining two and a half minutes were obviously crucial, the Wolves’ focus on keeping Wigan out until the break.
They couldn’t. On the second play after the scrum for a Ratchford knock-on after Richards had flung the ball infield, those wonderful wide Wigan plays came good at last when Green, Smith and, finally, Tomkins combined for Goulding to crash over in the tackle of Ratchford and Riley. Richards missed the kickable conversion, for him at least, but a ten-point half-time gap didn’t look unbridgeable.
Far from it. After a differential penalty for Warrington breaking early from the scrum, Wigan launched their first attack of the second half which ended when Farrell charged through to the line but couldn’t get a pass away to O’Loughlin under pressure from Grix.
A high tackle by O’Loughlin on Grix released the pressure and the Wolves threatened to slot back into their winning mode when Atkins was cut down by Tomkins as he raced through onto Myler’s measured angled grubber.
On the next play, Myler put a lovely grubber behind the sticks but Farrell did wonders to run the ball out.
It was another key moment. Smith’s clearing kick was charged down by Michael Monaghan but he regathered to launch an attack, with the back-tracking Michael Monaghan penalised for not getting back ten metres. Within a minute McIlorum was striking a telling blow, dummying as he shot right out of acting-half and evading the grasp of Monaghan.
Richards’ goal made it 16-12 and the Wigan fans could feel the win in their bones.
Sean O’Loughlin went off for a rest, planned it was later revealed, but it didn’t matter.
McIlorum had to produce a desperate ankle tap on Grix as he raced away after intercepting Thornley’s pass when Wigan threatened, just before Ratchford’s Grand Final came to an end when Hansen came in low as Mossop held him in the tackle.
Briers sent up a bomb but Atkins fouled Charnley as he waited to catch it, the penalty count now level at 6-apiece.
Suddenly Wigan were in front as another wide attack ended with Goulding sending a perfect grubber down the right for Charnley to tear onto and collect, just before stand-in fullback Riley could get there, and race behind the posts. Richards’ third goal edged Wigan in front 18-16.
Warrington needed some lucky breaks and they got one when Charnley should have extended the lead, but dropped Tomkins’ pass cold with the line open and barely five metres away.
It mattered little. Myler spilled the ball in McIlorum’s robust tackle before Tomkins was held up on the last by Myler, Riley and Atkins as he collected a high kick from Green.
A ball steal by Michael Cooper on Smith, with Atkins brought back as he headed for the Wigan sticks, helped Wigan back downfield, and McIlorum was the main man again, taking the ball to the defensive line before finding Green, who stepped Adrian Morley and shot through to the right of the posts. With Richards’ goal it was 24-18, and Warrington, drained by their efforts to get out of their own half, didn’t look like scoring one try, let alone two.
Gil Dudson’s high tackle on Michael Monaghan gave them a chance to get back, but immediately Myler was penalised for crossing, although no interference took place.
Tomkins’ grubber went dead after Wigan pinged the ball around in thrilling fashion and the Wolves response was a Briers bomb that put no pressure on Tomkins.
And then it was all over. Cooper’s swinging arm, spotted by the touch judge, laid out Richards but the winger recovered enough to be on the end of a sweet O’Loughlin pass that missed out two men and allowed him to step over the tryline untouched. His try, his 147th, also moved him clear into sixth place in the list of all-time leading Super League scorers. And he hit the touchline conversion too to equal Kevin Sinfield’s record for most points in a Super League Grand Final with 14, recorded in Leeds Rhinos’ win over the Wolves last year.
Smith tried to cap it off with a field goal but put it to the left of the posts.
Richards ended his Wigan eight-season career with a Grand Final try, just has he had his Wests Tigers career in their NRL Premiership win of 2005.
Lee Mossop had played his 100th and final game for Wigan before heading to Parramatta, and Auckland-bound Sam Tomkins signed off in perfect fashion too.
“It’s unbelievable,” said Tomkins.
“This is what we dreamt of. There are a few of us leaving, we are a really tight group, and the players spoke about a fairytale ending. This was it.”
GAMESTAR: Blake Green. Scored a key try, and kicked and distributed superbly after suffering facial damage at the end of the opening minute.
GAMEBREAKER: Blake Green’s jinking try in the 65th minute killed off the exhausted Wolves’ chances.
TOP TACKLE: Iain Thornley got across to take Chris Bridge into touch a couple of metres short in the 33rd minute. If Warrington had scored then they would have led 22-2, possibly 24-2.
19 Stefan Ratchford
5 Joel Monaghan
3 Chris Bridge
4 Ryan Atkins
2 Chris Riley
6 Lee Briers
7 Richie Myler
16 Paul Wood
14 Mickey Higham
18 Chris Hill
13 Ben Harrison
12 Ben Westwood
15 Simon Grix
Subs (all used)
9 Michael Monaghan
8 Adrian Morley (C)
17 Mike Cooper
10 Garreth Carvell
Also in 19-man squad
T – Monaghan (20), Grix (24), Westwood (27); G – Ratchford 2/3
1 Sam Tomkins
2 Josh Charnley
3 Darrell Goulding
17 Iain Thornley
5 Pat Richards
6 Blake Green
7 Matty Smith
10 Lee Mossop
9 Michael McIlorum
20 Gil Dudson
11 Harrison Hansen
12 Liam Farrell
13 Sean O’Loughlin (C)
Subs (all used)
15 Ben Flower
4 Jack Hughes
26 Dom Crosby
21 Scott Taylor
Also in 19-man squad
T – Goulding (37), McIlorum (47), Charnley (53), Green (65), Richards (74); G – Richards 5/6
Rugby Leaguer & League Express Men of the Match
Wolves: Chris Hill
Warriors: Michael McIlorum
Penalty count: 7-10
GLDO Forced: 1-2
Referee: Richard Silverwood