Chris Joynt turned captain
fantastic as St Helens retained their Tetley's Bitter Super League crown
with a thrilling 29-16 Grand Final triumph over Wigan Warriors at Old
Two inspirational tries from Joynt, one in each half, broke
the hearts of Wigan.
And at the end when Joynt lifted the Grand Final trophy to the night
sky in an emotional and spectacular finale, no skipper could have deserved
his acclaim as man of the match more.
Joynt, a veteran of eight years at Knowsley Road, was simply superb,
marshalling his men in a topsy-turvy end-to-end match which saw Wigan's
Jason Robinson end his rugby league career on a losing note.
Robinson, 26, joins rugby union side Sale on Tuesday and if he plays
another 10 years in rugby's other code it is unlikely he will match the
ferocity and fervour of this encounter.
What a pity none of the pampered millionaires who usually park their
Ferraris in the Old Trafford car park were here to witness it.
Because quite simply this was as Grand as
sport gets. Abrasive and bruising, punishing and pulsating.
But in the end, despite a Wigan brave fightback, five-try Saints were
Indeed, they won because they possessed more game-breakers, more
players blessed with individual brilliance - skipper Joynt, man of steel
Sean Long, players' player of the year Tommy Martyn, the irrepressible
Saints had men of magic all over the field; Wigan too often had to rely
too heavily on the mercurial Andy Farrell and Robinson.
It was, of course, always going to be tough, pitching together the only
two previous winners of the Grand Final, the winner and runner-up in this
year's championship and, perhaps more significantly, the two fiercest
rivals in the world of rugby league.
It also saw Wigan coach Frank Endacott spring a selection surprise by
switching Robinson to full-back for his last match, Kris Radlinski moving
to centre after Gary Connolly was ruled out through injury.
"We Will Rock You", boy band Five sang minutes before kick-off. And
Sean Hoppe proceeded to rock Wigan as early as the seventh minute,
squirming through an attempted Brett Dallas tackle for the first
If anything it had come against the early run of play, Wigan having set
off as if determined to avenge their 54-16 defeat by Saints a fortnight
But Saints' lead lasted just seven minutes before Wigan skipper Andy
Farrell took a short reverse pass from Tony Smith and surged towards the
He burst through one defender's tackle and then virtually carried
Saints full-back Paul Wellens over the try-line with him such was his
determination to level the scores.
The match settled down with alternate waves of Wigan blue and St Helens
red lighting up Old Trafford and delighting a record Grand Final crowd of
Joynt and loose forward Sculthorpe were beginning to dominate in the
crucial forward battle - the Saints skipper almost touching down when he
chased a through kick only to see the ball squeze against one of the
uprights and be ruled 'no try' by video referee Ray Tennant.
Seven minutes later, however, Joynt was back on the rampage, twisting
and turning his way past Farrell before brushing aside Robinson to flop
over the line.
With Sean Long kicking the conversion and Sculthorpe dropping a goal,
Saints took in an 11-4 lead at the interval.
It seemed the defining moment of this thrilling game, however, had
arrived in the 50th minute. First Wigan centre Steve Renouf broke clear to
scamper 50 metres, only to be caught by a desperate Saints defence.
Then Wigan's agony was complete as Saints surged back down the field
for the impish Long to dodge and weave his way through before feeding
Joynt for his second try. Long added the conversion and at 17-4 adrift it
seemed Wigan were lost.
But the Super League winners have not gained their mighty reputation by
lying down and allowing the opposition to cruise home. And with Farrell
probing and prompting Wigan clawed their way back; David Hodgson racing 40
metres for a touchdown and then Tony Smith accepting Farrell's pass to
draw Wigan within one point at 17-16.
Saints were rocking and it seemed the next score would be vital. It
could easily have gone to Wigan as they pressed relentlessly forward but
instead Martyn supplied the crucial pass for Fereti Tuilagi to crash over,
the Samoan assisted by Wigan winger Hodgson who went for the interception
rather than the tackle.
If that sealed it then Tim Jonkers' touchdown in the last seconds
rubbed in Saints' final superiority.
Over the tannoy came the announcement that many late trains back to St
Helens and Wigan would not run because of staff shortages. The Wiganers
had already gone - the Saints fans didn't care.