After months of toil and hard work, the identity of the two Super League Grand Final participants has been confirmed and, after winning their respective semi-finals this week, Warrington and Wigan will face off in the Old Trafford showpiece this Saturday in a repeat of the 2013 and 2016 finals.
Wigan won both of those matches but they will come up against a Warrington team who deservedly beat League Leaders’ Shield winners St Helens in stunning fashion at the Totally Wicked Stadium on Thursday night. An entertaining game produced a mere five points in the first half as, after Tyrone Roberts and Danny Richardson exchanged penalties, the latter kicked a drop goal after Stefan Ratchford had missed when it seemed easier to score. It’s not often that a rugby league match sees a 3-2 half-time score and, despite a tryless opening stanza, this was a match worth watching. Luke Douglas and Jack Hughes exchanged tries early on in the second half to break the deadlock and, after a further Richardson penalty, the hosts held a 11-6 lead with half an hour left. St Helens were certainly favourites at this point and were probably dominating the game but, just under ten minutes later, Tom Lineham scored the first of his two tries. After the ball was worked to the Wolves’ left edge, the impressive Bryson Goodwin provided the assist as the former York City Knights and Hull winger slid over under pressure from Ben Barba. Following a touchline conversion from the soon-to-be-departed Roberts, the Wire had the lead.
Two Richardson goals equalised and then took the lead again for St Helens but Lineham would soon be over again to clinch the game for Steve Price’s defeated Challenge Cup finalists. The ball was worked from right to left and, when Ratchford hastily tipped the ball across to Goodwin, the visitors had an overlap. The Australian provided Lineham with the chance to run for the line but, gaining possession thirty yards out, he still had plenty to do. Cutting back in from the touchline, the 26-year-old powered to the line much to Price and Co.’s enthusiastic celebrations. Roberts’ conversion made it 18-13 to Warrington and Price had guided the team who were in last season’s Qualifiers to the Grand Final.
In the final they will face a familiar foe and one who have the story on their side. Shaun Wane, John Bateman, Ryan Sutton and Sam Tomkins are all leaving Wigan and four such big figures for the club have the opportunity to leave the Warriors in the best possible way with Grand Final glory. While Friday’s semi-final wasn’t as entertaining as the previous night’s, Wane’s men showed their knockout nous as they nilled a Castleford team who, due to the number of handling errors they made, didn’t help themselves. Nevertheless, they were met by a fierce Wigan defence marshalled by Man of Steel nominee Bateman who is a man who the DW Stadium club will no doubt hugely miss. The cherry and whites broke the deadlock through Thomas Leuluai who, after a powerful Sean O’Loughlin run drew the tacklers, profited from good work courtesy of Sam Powell at dummy half to go over near the sticks after ten minutes. The goal was kicked by Tomkins and he kicked the next points with seconds remaining of the first half with a drop goal, leaving the half-time score at 7-0. The former New Zealand Warriors man would add to his personal haul as he slid over in the right corner minutes into the second half much to Wane’s clear delight, his passionate celebrations in the stand showing just how much this club means to him. Tomkins missed the conversion but remedied that with a penalty goal just after the hour mark before kicking another drop goal as the clock ticked towards eighty, leaving him with a personal tally of ten points.
Wigan couldn’t be going into Saturday’s final in better shape after winning their last nine matches, including all of their Super 8s fixtures, becoming the first team to do so. The last time they tasted defeat was a home reverse to rivals St Helens in mid-July and they will be keen to send Wane, Bateman, Sutton and Tomkins off with a tenth consecutive victory and a Grand Final winner’s ring to boot.
Warrington, on the other hand, will be keen to shrug off their tag of chokers after losing each of their three previous Grand Finals. Having also tasted defeat in August’s Challenge Cup final, Price will no doubt want his team to use that pain as fuel to tackle what will be a resilient Wigan team on Saturday. The Australian has had an excellent first season with the Wolves after returning them to the top four and will be keen to mark that maiden campaign with some silverware. Going down as the first coach to guide the Wolves to Super League glory would suffice.