That was a final of fine margins in the end that wasn’t it? So close, but yet so far.
In the end though I felt Wigan just lost it on experience. That might sound a bit daft when we are playing a third Grand Final in a row but compared to Leeds their is a massive difference between the two sides.
Kevin Sinfield, Danny McGuire, Rob Burrow and Jamie Peacock all played against Wigan thirteen seasons ago!! You cannot buy experience like that. It is huge. Especially when the majority of it is “in club” experience as I call it.
Compare this to Wigan and Sean O’Loughlin aside we are miles away. That’s just the way the cycle goes sometimes. When those four were playing thirteen years ago, Wigan were just about to lose Farrell, Cassidy, O’Connor and Radlinski, it took us years to recover from that.
Wigan now need to go away now and learn the lessons from this defeat. Lessons that will be more valuable I think than last year’s loss to St Helens.
The biggest lesson to take is learning to protect your lead far better than we did in this final. The 6-0 lead early on was lost within two minutes. Then the 20-16 lead just after the hour was also lost within two minutes. Small things in the grand scheme of 80 minutes but they are huge reasons why we lost.
Some say going for two on 62 minutes was a bad decision. That is easy in hindsight but at the time I thought it was the right call. Leeds did look knackered and the idea was that we’d take the penalty goal to level option away from them.
Trouble was, like I said, that lead didn’t last long. We found ourselves behind again within two minutes and it’s from this point forward that I’d accuse Wigan of their biggest naivety, not when they took penalty option.
That naivety being that Wigan did not seem to realise that another penalty goal would get them level. Penalties can be kicked from anywhere inside an opponents half whilst tries obviously require you to get up to the line. You need to get up to penalty kicking range in the first place though.
Not once in that last spell did we go direct enough. Our mindset seemed to be that we needed a try to win the match and were chucking left and right looking for space to hit through. Not once did we think about get in range first and then see what we can do.
Getting into the Leeds half would have brought penalty goal into option, should one be gifted, or otherwise an option to create fear on the last with a kick. Pressure can create mistakes, even to the most experienced of players but we never got into that kind of position.
I mean watch the winning try for Leeds. Watkins run direct first Tackle before Garbutt goes direct on the second Tackle. Walters hits up third tackle before the fourth sees Burrow having scoot before passing for Ablett hits it up and offloads to get Sinfield a few more metres. Sixty metres gained saw the last tackle set up in good kicking position. Good kick and and although I wouldn’t criticise Manfredi for the error, a failure to catch saw Leeds find a try. Never did they panic. Never did they go wide. They stuck around the middle of the field the whole set. It was all about territory. Wigan never realised that late on. . That for me is probably the biggest lesson for us to learn for this narrow defeat.
Generally though, once Leeds got to 22-20 I knew we’d lost. Quarter of an hour still remained but they are absolute masters of protecting a slender lead. During that time they pinned down with superb kicking and they never conceded a single penalty.
Wigan’s kicking in comparison was not the best. Everyone will recall Tony Clubb ending up with the ball on the last late on but earlier we had Joel Tomkins kicking on the last. Again, small things in the grand scheme of 80 minutes but massive errors in finals. Leeds were always set with the right men in the right places at the right time. Wigan just missed those marks 10% of the time and that was enough for Leeds to get over the line. You just have to tip your hat to them. A treble is a great achievement!
For Wigan, I wouldn’t criticise them too much. They were just short of being both league leaders and champions in the end to a side that have now won seven titles and two Challenge Cups in the past twelve seasons.
Crucially for us this is the first time we will turnaround next season without key men departing from the squad. That is important. Joe Burgess is leaving but the wing is the least of our worries and replacing Matty Bowen with Sam Tomkins, if he finds his old form especially, is obvious improvement, regardless of how well Mango did at the back end of his Wigan career (our Old Trafford man of the match for sure). Without Sinfield and Peacock I find it hard to see Leeds being so strong again next time round and if we learn the lessons from this, we should be stronger. Time will tell.