So Saturday see's the Under 20s Grand Final taking place at Leigh
Sports Village on the other side of Wigan. This will be our fourth
final in a row at this level, having beaten St Helens in 2008, 2009
In fact this will be Wigan's 10th Academy Level Grand Final of
the modern era (by modern era I mean since I started doing this
website back in the 2002 season). 10 academy finals in 10 seasons
is a phenomenal achievement that not only the club should be proud
of, but also all the local amateur sides in this town and beyond
Six of those previous finals have been won with victories in
2002 (Under 17s), 2003 (Under 21s) and 2005 (Under 18s), adding to
the three recent Under 20s finals I mentioned.
In all that time we have an impressive list of players who
played in one of these finals for us, and then gone on to play at
least once in our first team. This list includes: Harrison Hansen,
Chris Melling, Kevin Brown, Bob Beswick, Dave Allen, Bryn
Hargreaves, Paul Prescott, Desi Williams, Shaun Briscoe, Liam
Colbon, James Coyle, Mark Roberts, Chris Ashton, Sean Gleeson, Lee
Jewitt, Joel Tomkins, Thomas Coyle, Mike McIlorum, Sam Tomkins,
Lee Mossop, Eamon O'Carroll, Shaun Ainscough, Darrell Goulding,
Chris Tuson, Ben Davies, Jonny Walker, Liam Farrell, Josh
Charnley, Stefan Marsh and Jack Hughes.
That's 30 players and many others have gone on to play for
other clubs at first team level. Granted some have had more success than
others in our first team, but who knows what future first team stars will be turning
out this weekend at Leigh.
Warrington meanwhile will be playing in their first academy
final in that same time span. They decided to invest heavily in
youth about three or four years back and that investment is now
beginning to show reward. They actually topped the Under 20s table
last year but fell short in the play offs, to first St Helens, then
Wigan. So to reach the Grand Final this time is a big step for
Wigan have lost four of the last five meetings against
Warrington at this level, including a 29-12 defeat at Halliwell
Jones Stadium three weeks ago. I'm not sure you can read much into
that last loss though because Wigan had already secured first place in
the table, so nothing really was riding on the game.
The other meeting this year was way back in March when
Warrington won 28-24 at Orrell. That game went right down to the
wire (pardon the pun) with Wigan clawing back from 26-14 down to make
Warrington kick a penalty goal in the fourth minute of stoppage
time to ensure the result.
The two sides named for the final should be interesting. Wigan
have been able to add the experience of Joe Mellor, Dom Crosby,
Logan Tomkins and Ben Davies to their squad since that clash at Halliwell Jones Stadium earlier in the month.
Warrington have not really had that kind of luxury but, using
rules that allow for three players over age 20 to be used per
side, they have played 31 year old ex Warrior Mick Higham in their
two play off matches to date on top of solo appearances for Chris
Riley and Tyrone McCarthy. Ben Davies is the only over-age player
Wigan have used in their two play off games - Crosby, Mellor and
Logan Tomkins still qualify for the Under 20s by right.
On the books at Warrington is Bobbie Goulding's son, who is
also called Bobbie. He is expected to start for them at Scrum
Half. Also, their second rower Danny Bridge who could easily have
been lining up in Wigan colours on Saturday. Up until 26th July
this year he was on the books at Wigan but decided to leave so he
could team up at Warrington with his brother Chris. The irony is
that he goes into this final having played 13 games for our Under
20s and just five for Warrington - so I wonder if he will receive
a winners medal whatever the result on Saturday?
It's hard to predict who will win because you can't judge the
opposition really at this level because you rarely see them play.
One thing I will say is that I think, on the evidence of our
performance last week, they'll will have to have a huge game in the
forwards because we totally dominated Wakefield in that department.
The forward battle will possibly decide the result. Previous experience of these finals could count a hell
of a lot for Wigan as well.
You'd think the four recently recalled Wigan players would give
us a massive edge but it's worth noting that they all played when
Warrington won at Orrell in March. However on that day Warrington
had added the over aged Mike Cooper and Lee Mitchell in their
pack. They might not have that luxury this time? Either way it
should be a cracking final. Just like at first team level, they
have been the two stand out sides all year and quality of the
final should reflect that. Well worth a fiver of your money before
heading on to Widnes later!