After missing two years with injury, Wigan winger Dom Manfredi wrote his own fairytale as he helped his team send off their departing stars and head coach with their own perfect ending.
With Sam Tomkins, John Bateman and Ryan Sutton leaving the playing ranks as Shaun Wane ended his three decade long association with the club, the Warriors had the story ready to be inked but, after Josh Charnley opened the scoring, an element of doubt must have crept into their mind. The winger, one of the stars Wane helped to nurture during his time in the Wigan academy, the former Sale Sharks man crossed in the right corner after the ball was well worked out towards him.
It wouldn’t take too long for Wigan to reply though as Manfredi scored the first of his two tries. After his centre Oliver Gildart superbly dummied to take two Warrington edgemen out of the game, he provided the easiest of run-ins for 25-year-old Manfredi to stroll across the line in the corner. Sam Tomkins failed to add the conversion – like Roberts with Warrington’s score – as the strong wind showed it was affecting proceedings on the pitch.
Tomkins, soon to be of Catalans, could – arguably should – have been, at the very least, have been the first player to have been sin-binned for tripping Bryson Goodwin as he threatened to break from the Wolves’ twenty. Shortly after being initially warned for that offence, the former New Zealand Warriors man used his knees to the head of Daryl Clark. With the travelling thousands of Warrington fans baying for blood, their reaction to Robert Hicks’ decision to simply warn Tomkins again didn’t go down too well.
However, in an entertaining and open first half, it was Wigan who went into the sheds ahead after Tom Davies raced onto a George Williams kick into the in-goal. Seemingly having ran out of option on the fourth play of a set, the England international weaved across field before seeing ample space behind Charnley on Warrington’s right edge. A perfectly placed low kick was put in and Davies had enough time to wait for the ball to settle before grounding in the in-goal.
The Wire could arguably have deemed themselves unlucky to be behind at half-time but any sympathy may well have been diminished after a small minority of their fans launched drinks and other paraphernalia onto the pitch after the hooter – generally in the direction of Tomkins. There was also a scuffle in the tunnel as the teams left the field with Wigan forward Romain Navarette saying that it was started when Goodwin gave Morgan Escare a shove.
What the first half boasted in attacking pace, the second half could claim in defensive solidity as the game turned into an arm wrestle. Much like their semi-final victory over Castleford, Wigan’s defence controlled the game and withstood everything Warrington threw at them. For a period in the half, the team who had lost each of their last three Grand Finals looked out on their feet, perhaps typified when Stefan Ratchford – awarded the Harry Sunderland trophy for man of the match – made two threatening line breaks only for none of his teammates to be available to continue the charge. Perhaps, then, it shouldn’t have been a surprise to see Wigan produce the sucker punch and clinch the game with minutes remaining.
Manfredi, who, having missed two years of rugby after seriously injuring his knee ligaments just before the 2016 Grand Final, was making only his fifth match since returning from injury and had to depart the play in the second half for a period after sustaining a head cut. Reappearing with a bandage around his head, he would prove to be the player to seal Wigan’s fifth Super League title. Camped on Warrington’s ten metre line, Sean O’Loughlin reversed the play to the right edge to Thomas Leuluai. The Kiwi passed it onto Tomkins who produced a cut-out pass to provide Manfredi with a path to the line and his fairytale end to 2018. Jubilant scenes followed his score as every single member of the Wigan team celebrated with their teammate, probably as much for celebrating his comeback as their fifth title as they bid adieu to their quartet of departees.
As the hooter sounded, Shaun Wane had done it. In his last game as head coach, he had guided his beloved Wigan Warriors to another Grand Final win and Super League title and, with it, written his perfect ending before joining Scottish Rugby Union. Tomkins, Bateman and Sutton had all signed off their time with Wigan in the best possible way but it should be Manfredi who gets the headlines from the final after returning from such horrendous injury woes and hitting top form almost immediately.
Warrington, though, will be left to lick their wounds once more after not only losing their fourth Grand Final from four but also after losing both showpiece finals this year. However, it does mark a remarkable turnaround in fortunes from 2017 under the stewardship of Steve Price.Embed from Getty Images
Wigan: Tomkins, Manfredi, Gildart, Sarginson, Davies, Williams, Leuluai, Navarrete, Powell, Flower, Greenwood, Bateman, O’Loughlin
Substitutes: Clubb, Farrell, Sutton, Escare
Warrington: Ratchford, Lineham, Goodwin, King, Charnley, Brown, Roberts, Hill, Clark, Cooper, Thompson, Hughes, Westwood
Substitutes: Murdoch-Masila, Patton, Philbin, King