Well how sweet was that. A perfect end to a pretty much perfect
Super League campaign for Wigan. 100% worthy champions - well done
to all the players and staff.
It was a weird feeling though. We
absolutely dominated the Saints from start to finish but part of me
wishes that we won the final in a hard fought battle to the death.
The reality though was that it was a very comfortable win and the
final score of 22-10 flattered the Saints immensely.
Well I say comfortable but for us Wigan fans who have been so
used to being disappointed nearly men for so long, it was a hell of
a long wait for the final whistle. Even with 5 minutes to go I was
still nervously awaiting the final hooter.
Saints were never going to beat us though. The losses of Leon
Pryce and Kyle Eastmond were just far too much to overcome. Jon
Wilkin is never a half back and to be honest bringing Matty Smith
back from Salford was pretty desperate. Saints fans seem to be
bemoaning Mick Potter because of an apparent no show in this final
but personally I think they over-achieved in reaching at least the
last two Grand Finals. Saints look to be in the exact position
Wigan found themselves in about six years ago. The quality has
drained out of the side and a big pack is all good and well but
they have zero quality out wide. I was always confident we would
win, if we didn't gift them easy territory and so it proved.
Our day started in a very packed out Moon under Water pub at 9am
with the train to Manchester being caught at 10:46. The train was
packed but not too many needed to stand. I hear they were
absolutely shocking on the way home? I got the tram up to Old
Trafford and had to squeeze onto it. Why is their a total lack of
preparation for an event like this? Extra trams, extra trains
should have been put on but all we got was a normal service and
they are always packed on a normal day, never mind Grand Final day!
Arrival in Manchester saw Wigan fans gather in the superb beer
garden at the Sinclairs Oyster Bar. 90% of those in their must have
been Wigan fans. I've not a clue who that guy was who came across
dancing but drunken idiot (although strangely sober for this final)
"Scotty", cheered on by the Wigan fans,
danced him into submission.
Although the "shows your arse" chant wasn't good because he did
Anyway onto the game and the atmosphere at the Wigan end of the
ground was superb. I was sat in the left hand corner of the East
Stand and could look right to a huge sea of Cherry and White. It
was a crying shame the minutes silence for Terry Newton was poorly
observed by a small section of fans in our end of the ground.
Obviously not Wigan fans, but Terry deserved better than that!
The first half saw both sides have completions rates of over
90%, which is phenomenal for a normal game, never mind a pressure
cooker final. The difference though was a superb kicking game from
Wigan that always had St Helens on the back foot.
Wigan's first set saw a high hanging kick from eventual man of
the match Thomas Leuluai. It was looking poor at first but bounced
well to put Jamie Foster under pressure. Saints only found 20
metres on their first set with James Graham being hammered by
Martin Gleeson and Pat Richards. Saints in contrast made a poor
clearance kick and this contributed to them being on the back foot.
Our next set saw another good kick from Leuluai but Francis Meli
caught it well before being wrapped up by Gleeson. Saints though
made a dreadful error to gift us easy territory and a Michael
Maguire coached Wigan side current side is always likely to punish.
Iosia Soliola it was who's pass went to ground and Pat Richards
snaffled it up easy. This got Wigan twenty metres out and swinging
it right Paul Deacon, Thomas Leuluai and Sam Tomkins all got a
touch before Martin Gleeson finished the move well, despite
pressure. It's been quite a common try in the play offs to see
Deacon, Leuluai and Sam all combine going right but Saints had no
answer. Pat couldn't convert so the lead was just 4-0 in as many
I mentioned in my match preview how Wigan's starting
three-quarters had crossed the line 92 times in the Super League
regular season, compared to just 64 for St Helens. A remarkable
statistic when you bare in mind that St Helens scored 8 more tries
than us during the campaign. It just shows how lethal we are out
wide and this was shown in a quality second try in the 15th minute.
Before that try, Wigan had still got St Helens on the back foot.
They were really struggling in defence on their right wing. First
Jamie Foster had to knock on or let Pat Richards have a chance to
score, then a towering kick from Leuluai was batted back by Pat and
knocked on by Matty Smith. George Carmont went close and a second
kick, from Mike McIlorum of all people, was collected by Pat and
Carmont went close again but trying to keep the ball alive it ended
up going into touch. Saints had done well to survive all that
pressure. I mean a stat on Sky showed Wigan had played 7 of the 13
minutes so far in the St Helens half with possession. Saints in
comparison had only gone pass half way once and they only made 10
metres when they did that.
So for all that pressure 4-0 was a disappointing return but
Wigan soon responded with that class try I was talking about. It
came after Wigan conceded their first penalty of the match with
Sean O'Loughlin pinged for a high shot on Jon Wilkin. The penalty
got them on half way but on the last Matty Smith put in a poor kick
that was easily taken by Richards.
Then after four tackles Wigan made their move. Leuluai sent Sam
Tomkins on the half break down the right, Chris Flannery halted his
charge but he offloaded back to Leuluai who in turn found Paul
Deacon. Meli and Graham came back to stop him but he found a pass
that got Gleeson over for his second of the game. It was an awesome
passing move that took Wigan 80 metres up the field and Paul
Wellens' desperate ankle tap attempt was not going to deny Gleeson
going under the posts. Easy conversion for Pat made it 10-0.
One of Wigan's many trademarks this season has been to score
back to back tries in quick succession and they did it again here.
Saints had survived one set but when Wigan next got the ball they
forced a "back to one" under the sticks with a bomb from Deacon
being flapped at by Jon Wilkin. Right under the posts they only
needed one tackle to get the try. McIlorum from dummy half found
Leuluai, who found Gleeson and Darrell Goulding finished off easily
in the right corner. That was his 29th try in 26 appearances this
year. Pat then hit a sweet conversion off the touchline to make it
16-0 after 20 minutes.
Also in my preview I talked about how St Helens standards drop
when Keiron Cunningham departs from the field but when he departed
this Grand Final after 20 minutes, Saints actually had their best
period of the game.
They finally got an attack on our line in the 25th minute but
Sam Tomkins brilliantly halted Matty Smith's charge for the line
and then on the last Saints swung left but Goulding hammered Meli
into touch. Brilliant defence!
Saints came back though two minutes later with the help of a
penalty conceded by Feka Paleaaesina for holding down. From that
Andrew Dixon scored a soft try close to the posts, having been sent
in by Wilkin. Easy conversion for Jamie Foster made it 16-6.
That was a flattering score and Saints might have sniffed a
comeback if they could find another quick try but Wigan are made of
much sterner stuff this year. They had a full 10 minutes to
negotiate before half time but they did that with little pressure
on our line. Some poor St Helens kicks helped that cause but a
Wigan side of the Brian Noble era would have come up with a crucial
error or stupid penalty, its brilliant how the current set up have
knocked that out of them.
Late in the first half came what many saw as a massive blow. Pat
Richards limped off with an Achilles tendon injury, which we now
know is likely to keep him out for the start of next season.
Personally though I wasn't too gutted because I just thought, well
that probably forces Liam Farrell into having to stay on for the
rest of the game and I absolutely love what that guy does for our
cause. He has a superb work ethic in defence but backs that up by
being an excellent support player in attack.
Richards absence meant that Carmont switched to the left wing
with Joel Tomkins filling in at centre. That really did annul the
threat we had down that side with kicks in the first half. All the
tries had been scored down the right but the errors were coming
down out left. Anyway, we still attacked down the right and it
continued to pay dividends.
The first try of the second half was always going to be massive
and both sides had chances to claim it. Leuluai went oh so close in
the 44th minute but Jonny Lomax saved the try by stripping the ball
off him. Beyond me why that can't be classed as a penalty try but
instead it was an in field penalty and Mark Riddell took a woeful
shot at goal that sailed wide. I'm not sure the cheer when he stuck
his arm out to kick was wise in a final but the Wigan fans enjoyed
Saints had two big chances. The first came on 47 minutes when
Paul Wellens made probably their only clean break of the match but
he threw a pass straight into the arms of Goulding. A huge relief.
The second came in the 50th minute and had they scored it could
have been a completely different contest. A poor knock on by
Carmont, only our second error of the game, gave Saints a scrum ten
metres out. From it Smith sent Wilkin charging at the line but he
failed to take the pass. Had he got in the score could have been
16-12 and although Saints didn't deserve to get that close, it
would have been a real nerve jangler for the final half hour.
Two minutes later a possible 16-12 became 20-6 with Wigan going
up the other end to pretty much seal the win. Helped by Saints
being penalised for obstruction in possession, Wigan got the ball
thirty metres out. They went right and Leuluai combined with Sam
Tomkins again to send the little fella over. It was right in front
of me and he showed superb strength to reach over despite pressure
from Meli and Flannery. Riddell's conversion attempt again was
woeful but 20-6 gave us huge breathing space. It meant Saints had
to score three times to win.
Rather than shut up shop Wigan continued to look for a killer
try and Saints began to wilt in defence, which resulted in more
penalties being conceded. Had Richards been on the field they
probably would have just chipped away with kicks at goal but they
tap one penalty until receiving an unmissable penalty right under
the sticks in the 58th minute. An easy kick for Riddell stretched
the lead to 22-6.
From the restart Saints petulance was shown again with James
Graham blowing off at the referee after Wigan regathered a short
kick off. To me he should have been sin binned for that. It was
blatant dissent and even in a final I think an example should have
been set. It allowed Wigan to score what we all thought was the
match clinching try but Farrell's effort was chalked off by video
ref Ian Smith for obstruction. Farrell himself had obstructed a
Saints player from tackling O'Loughlin in the process and it looked
a correct call.
Cunningham was back on the field for Saints to play out the last
twenty minutes of his illustrious career. He has been absolutely
quality for them over the past 16 years but his only contribution
was to give the Wigan fans a huge cheer when he knocked on a simple
pass from Wilkin.
After that, Saints never looked likely to make a comeback in the
final quarter. Wigan had this game well and truly wrapped up.
Another conceded penalty on 70 minutes gave Wigan another shot at
goal but this time Sam Tomkins shanked a sitter.
Soon after Francis Meli claimed a basic try in the left corner
to give Saints slim hope and although it made us Wigan fans nervous
last 6 minutes it was just too little, too late. Foster couldn't
convert so they still needed two converted tries to level at 22-10.
When the clock went down to five minutes I still wasn't relaxed
that the game was won, even though it really had been won long ago,
but Wigan just closed out the contest to win our first trophy since
2002. Great scenes of joy at full time from both players and fans
alike. Personally I didn't produce any tears but just 1,924 days
since the 75-0 humiliation at Knowsley Road that victory was sweet.
In fact this whole season made up for that result, the poor start
to 2006, the 2007 and 2009 cup semi defeats, the 2008 Millennium
Magic embarrassment etc etc.... those bitter experiences made this
win all the more sweeter.
Every player should have been proud of their efforts in the
final. In fact the whole squad has been awesome all year. It wasn't
just about the 17 men that played the final. I mean Amos Roberts 14
tries in the first 10 games of this season was huge in setting the
platform for all that followed. Chris Tuson also made a massive
contribution and was unlucky to lose his place so late in the
campaign. Even Karl Pryce did his part when asked.
I'm pleased also that the likes of Feka, Piggy and Phil Bailey
can all depart with a bit of joy. I know Bailey didn't play in the
final but although never a quality player he did a decent job for
us in the last four seasons. Likewise Feka over the last five
years. Good luck to them in their future ventures. You also can't
forget Brian Noble's role in this win. He laid the foundations and
laid them well.
I must credit the match officials. I thought they were
excellent and left no arguments over any decisions. In fairness,
apart from the dissent by Graham, both sides played the game in
After the Wigan players went up to receive Grand Final rings, we
had no idea what Sean O'Loughlin said on the tannoy but it was
immense to see him lift that magnificent Super League trophy, our
19th title success.
One of the things I love about doing this site is looking back
and knowing about our great history and I'm really pleased that we
can now be proud of a new chapter. As good a club as St Helens are
they haven't produced in every era like we have. Saints had only
won two major trophies (a league and a Lancashire cup) prior to
1952-53 compared to our 25 (8 leagues, 4 challenge cups and 13
Lancashire Cups)!!! We've always produced quality teams that win
trophies and that's why we are the greatest team of all time.
No one can argue that we didn't deserve the championship. We
topped Super League from Round 3 and our only away trip defeat all
year, in the league, was that 22-20 defeat at Bradford back in
March. To bounce back from defeat every time we lost speaks volumes
for the attitude of the players as well. Even Mr Bitter Schofield,
who of course predicted a Saints victory,
ate humble pie on his twitter feed.
The only sad part about this win is that is brings an end to the
season and marks the start of winter. But we've so much to look
forward to including winding up opposition fans with that awful
"that's why were champions" chant.
Luckily we had a mini bus back to town and the night ended with
plenty of beers in the Bowling Green up Wigan Lane. Those that
wanted had a good dance to the disco but I preferred a more quiet
reflection on a successful season. It was about 5am when I managed
to go to bed but I never managed to make it out for the homecoming
parade. Ah well, here's to another great year next year!