St Helens are the Super League champions once again, after they won their first Grand Final in eight years to dethrone last year’s winners, Wigan Warriors.
The game – which was overshadowed by an incredible red card for Wigan’s Ben Flower in the opening two minutes – was full of ferocity, tension and drama, but a stunning second half from the Saints – they won it 12-0 – laid the platform for them to end their horrendous Old Trafford hoodoo.
On a night where James Roby capped off an incredible year by winning the Harry Sunderland Trophy, the Saints ultimately had too much in the tank for their great rivals, who lost out on a bid to retain their title.
Nathan Brown’s reign as St Helens coach has ended with a Grand Final win, after many wrote the Saints off for long parts of the year after losing key players to injury throughout the course of the year. They even lost Lance Hohaia for the bulk of the game, after he did not return to the field after being hit by Flower.
The physicality was on show from the very first tackle, as Mose Masoe sent Dominic Crosby bouncing to the turf with a ferocious shot. That set the tone for a high-intensity clash – but what followed was absolutely incredible.
After clashing with Lance Hohaia whilst chasing down a kick, Wigan’s Ben Flower retaliated incredibly – by delivering a brutal punch to the head, followed by another when Hohaia was already on the deck.
Referee Phil Bentham had no choice but to issue him with a red card, making him the first ever player to be sent off in a Super League Grand Final. Wigan were down to 12 men – but Hohaia had to be escorted down the tunnel for treatment, leaving Saints without another key pivot.
However, despite their man disadvantage, Wigan were still managing to breach the Saints’ defence on a number of occasions. Josh Charnley broke away down the right after a superb offload from Anthony Gelling, but the Saints recovered to bring the break to an end.
However, Wigan eventually posted the first points of the game after 15 minutes, when Matty Smith nailed a penalty from in front of the sticks to put the Warriors in front.
St Helens were struggling to break down a dominant Wigan defence, who were standing up in the face of a real barrage from Nathan Brown’s men. However, without the influential Hohaia on the field, Saints’ attacking guile looked incredibly limited.
And, after back-to-back penalties got the Saints in prime attacking position, they opted to go for goal, rather than run the play against 12 men. Mark Percival was accurate with the boot though, and he managed to level the game up at 2-2 with half an hour gone.
Gilt-edged attacking chances were hard to come by in a game that was filled with tension and drama, but the Saints thought they’d broken the try drought two minutes from the break, when James Roby pounced on a loose ball to touch down. However, video referee Ben Thaler deemed Josh Jones to be in touch in the act of passing the ball, so the game remained level.
It wouldn’t be level at the break though, as incredibly, Wigan managed to head into the sheds in front. A superb pass from Blake Green created the space for Joe Burgess to run into, and he finished superbly to put the Warriors into an improbable lead. Matty Smith missed the conversion attempt though, so Wigan held a slender four-point lead at the break.
As the second half began, the Saints onslaught continued – but they couldn’t break down a solid Wigan resolve. James Roby summed up Saints’ night to date, inexplicably dropping the ball with the line begging. However, as the game ticked towards the final 25 minutes, the momentum finally swung in Saints favour.
It was Sia Soliola who got the try, barging over from close range to tie it up at 6-6. Percival was on form with the boot, and he converted to put the Saints into the lead for the first time.
The Warriors refused to lie down despite their man advantage, and quickly broke the Saints line minutes after the restart. However, Liam Farrell’s break eventually came to nothing. Another break five minutes later gave the Warriors great position once again, and after Josh Jones was penalised for holding down, the Warriors opted to go for goal. However, Smith was off again with the boot, leaving the Saints holding onto their lead.
The momentum was shifting, and with ten minutes left on the clock, the Saints struck a potentially telling blow. A high, hanging kick was watched by several Wigan players, and Tommy Makinson jumped high to claim the ball, touching down right next to the posts. Crucially, Percival converted – leaving Wigan eight points behind with ten minutes on the clock.
Wigan regained the kick-off to immediately launch another onslaught on the Saints line, but they couldn’t breach a defence that had yet to concede in the second 40 minutes. Tensions were still incredibly high as the game approached the final minutes, and Wigan tried their hardest to at least give themselves a chance of overhauling the deficit.
However, handling errors and firm defence kept the Warriors at bay, and ensured that it would be Nathan Brown’s men who lifted the famous trophy in 2014.