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Saturday’s Dream Final

by Andie Riley

Wigan Warriors: Tomkins; Charnley, Goulding, Thornley, Richards; Green, Smith; Dudson, McIlorum, Mossop, Hansen, Farrell, O’Loughlin. Replacements: Hughes, Flower, Taylor, Crosby.

Warrington Wolves: Ratchford; Riley, Bridge, Atkins, J. Monaghan; Briers, Myler; Wood, Higham, Hill, Westwood, Grix, Harrison. Replacements: Morley, M. Monaghan, Carvell, Cooper.

You can’t say that the Super League Grand Final didn’t live up to its billing as the “dream final” this year.

When Warrington and Wigan took to the turf of Old Trafford, no one could have anticipated the drama that was to unfold over the next eighty minutes.

From the opening tussle to the last minutes, this match had pretty much everything you could ask for. The drama started as soon as Wigan coach Shaun Wane announced that captain Sean O’Loughlin was back in the starting line-up for Wigan. Having not played since he collected the Challenge cup in August, his return to play alongside the likes of Sam Tomkins, Josh Charnley and the certain to be missed Pat Richards no doubt gave the cherry and white fans a lift, as well as the rest of the team he would be leading. Tomkins will swap one Warriors for another next season. The Wigan and England full-back will join NRL side New Zealand Warriors for a world-record fee, reported to be around £700,000. Tomkins, voted Super League’s Man of Steel in 2012, scored the decisive try in Wigan’s Challenge Cup final win against Hull FC at Wembley in August. The 24-year-old arrives at Old Trafford hoping for one more magical moment to cap a glittering Super League career. “It’s a club I’ve loved having six years with and it’s going to be sad to leave. If there’s a way to go out, it’s at Old Trafford in a Grand Final,” he said. “Us and Warrington always have massive games, they always go right down to the wire and I’m sure Saturday will be no different. For the neutrals, many have said to me that they wanted a Wigan-Warrington final and they’ve got it. I’m sure it’s going to be one not to miss.” Winger Pat Richards and prop Lee Mossop are also heading to Australia and will be saying their farewells to the Wigan faithful later this evening.

Wigan were not alone in saying goodbye to players though, Adrian Morley will make his final appearance for Warrington after seven seasons with the club. The 36-year-old prop is the only British player to have won Grand Finals in England (with Bradford in 2005) and Australia (with Sydney Roosters in 2002) and he was aiming to lead the Wolves to a first Super League title since 1955, having been part of their rise from also-rans to consistent challengers. “When I signed, I believed in [owner] Simon Moran’s vision and optimism. To be part of the rise of Warrington has been incredible,” said Morley, who will play for home-town club Salford Red Devils in 2014. “We’ve won the Challenge Cup a few times, the League Leaders’ Shield and this [winning a Grand Final] is one thing we’ve not done. We’ve made the Grand Final before but we need to tick the victory box. To do that on Saturday would be pretty special.” Prop Gareth Carvell and forward Mike Cooper were also making their final appearances for Warrington.

24 hours earlier, it was announced that Super League and Manchester United had reached an agreement to stage the Grand Final at Old Trafford for another four years. The stadium, which has a capacity of around 76,000, has hosted all of the previous 15 Grand Finals and will also be the venue for the World Cup final on 30 November. The biggest attendance for a Grand Final was in 2006, when 72,582 people watched St Helens beat Hull FC 26-4.

So, kick off arrived, and less than 2 minutes later, Green is left on his back following a tackle. On closer inspection, it appears that the cut under his eye is the result of a punch from Westwood and it’s put on report by referee Silverwood after chatting to the touch judge.

Its 11 minutes before either team troubles the scoreboard, and it’s that man, Richards with a penalty from close on the half way line.

Following a forty-twenty from Green, Warrington soak up the pressure from Wigan and then head downfield themselves. Hooker Higham is held up inches short of the line and the ball is laid back to Lee Briers, who launches a right-footed cross-field high kick that is collected by Joel Monaghan to score the game’s first try. Monaghan does brilliantly to catch the ball under pressure from Richards. Ratchford fails to add the extras, but the Wolves lead after 21 minutes. It’s been a cracking first quarter, and for once, the game is being played out with no rain looking likely. Manchester? Dry in October? Never!

Just 3 minutes later and an error from Pat Richards is punished and Warrington strike again through Grix. Higham’s short pass finds the forward, who adds to the tries he scored against Leeds in the Wire’s semi-final win nine days ago with a powerful effort. Ratchford is successful with the boot this time from out wide and Warrington stretch their lead to 10-2.

You wait 20 minutes for one try and then 3 come along at once! Charnley fails to collect a high ball and the Wolves take advantage. Lee Briers sets up Westwood, who finds a great angle to charge over from close range. Ratchford adds the extra two and its 16-2.

Wigan’s defence has just been torn apart in the last 5 minutes to give Warrington a 14 point lead. The gap that opened up for the Westwood try would have accommodated an Australian land train, let alone the proverbial bus.

Wigan are looking increasingly dangerous on the right flank, and just short of the line, Charnley is bundled into touch. This is looking like it’s going to be a very tasty evening’s entertainment.

If Wigan go on to lose this Grand Final, they will look back at some of the chances they have wasted in this first half. Darrell Goulding and Josh Charnley are the guilty parties again, as Goulding’s pass goes astray and Charnley knocks on. Wigan’s greatest area of strength this season is proving their downfall so far in this Grand Final. No matter what they do, they just can’t seem to break that Wire defence down.

Now some unorthodox defending from Joel Monaghan keeps out Richards, although it has left the Australian in a bad way. Monaghan looked to be out cold straight after the impact and is receiving oxygen near the touchline. Quite rightly, after a 5+ minute stoppage, the entire crowd rises to applaud as he is taken from the field on a stretcher. From the resulting scrum and set of 6, Wigan finally crack the Wire line and Tomkins feeds Goulding to power past Riley and over the line. An uncharacteristic miss by Richards means Wigan trail by 10 points.

We go into the break with the scores at 16-6 and after a possible red card and 2 injury stoppages. You can’t say that Super League is boring…

News from the dressing room is that Joel is on his way to hospital to be looked at properly, but he’s awake, which is great to hear. Bridge has moved from the centre to the wing to cover for the injured Warrington winger.

9 minutes in, and McIlorum throws the dummy to get past Ratchford and bursts through the Warrington backline to put Wigan back in this Grand Final. Richards kicks the conversion and the Warriors are back within one score…16-12 and 30 minutes to go. Could we be on for the biggest comeback in grand final history?

A lovely grubber from Goulding sees Mr Silverwood sending a decision upstairs to check onside/offside…

Charnley is on-side from Goulding’s grubber kick, he has grounded the ball cleanly, and the leading scorer in Super League crosses for his 43rd try of the season. Talk about a momentum shift. Richards slots over the conversion from in front and Wigan lead by two points and the Wigan fans begin to believe again that they could do this.

Warrington are clearly missing their winger Monaghan and the switches they have made in position are not looking as comfortable as they were before the break.

Almost immediately, Josh Charnley goes from hero to villain for Wigan. Shaun Wane pelts the seat in front of him in the stand as the winger fails to collect Sam Tomkins’ pass with the try line at his mercy. Big moment. Wigan might regret not being their clinical self’s tonight.

Stefan Ratchford is forced off with an ankle injury after being brought down by Mossop and Hansen, his exit beginning a sequence that sees Warrington use three full-backs in as many minutes! There was a touch of the dodgy about that challenge as well, leaving Wire Coach Tony Smith to call for more protection of players after the tackle that left Ratchford with damage to ligaments in both ankles.

After 65 minutes though, Blake Green sells Adrian Morley a dummy and dives over under the posts. Pat Richards converts. Can a tiring Warrington fight back from this? It’s no looking good. They haven’t scored since the 26th minute and it’s now 16-24 to the Warriors with 15 minutes left.

And with just 6 minutes left on the clock, that must be it, and what a moment for Pat Richards. Try number 169 of his Wigan career, on his final appearance for the Warriors before heading back to Australia, surely seals victory. O’Loughlin’s lofted pass misses out two Wigan men and Richards gleefully grabs the ball to touch down. Pat Richards tore his Achilles tendon in the first half the last time Wigan played in a Grand Final. That try is a sweet moment for the Ireland international, as his eight-year Warriors career comes to an end.

With just seconds left, the on pitch announcer (Pete Nuttall of P10 Productions & a Warrington lad) gives the Wigan fans the news that Blake Green has been awarded the Harry Sunderland Man of the Match trophy for this year.

The hooter sounds, and that’s it, Wigan Warriors cap a remarkable season with a double of Cup and Grand Final.

Will either side be back next year? With the players both sides are saying goodbye to, its hard to say, but either way, it’s a final to remember.

One thing I would say, With both Grand Finals being played within 18 hours of each other, Why not play the World Club Challenge next Weekend? Why wait until next February? Because a lot of these lads will not be there to play in that game.

Just a thought…

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