Super League Grand Final, Wigan Warriors 20 Leeds Rhinos 22
The proceedings began with the entry of the First Utility Super League trophy before superstar rock band The Charlatans were formerly introduced to the army of supporters who were amassing in Old Trafford for this eagerly anticipated Super League Grand Final which was the first time that Wigan and Leeds had contested it since they were the headline act at the first ever one in 1998.
Classical star Laura Wright then gave an uplifting performance of Jerusalem before the battle hardened Rhinos and Warriors entered the Theatre of Dreams to a cauldron of expectant noise for the formalities before the kick off.
Shaun Wane started Dominic Manfredi and John Bateman in his three-quarter line along with 19 year old Centre Oliver Gildart, his counterpart Brian McDermott also sprang a surprise with Brad Singleton being named in the starting line-up for the Rhinos and offload machine Adam Cuthbertson dropping to the bench where he sat with teenager Walters.
Brett Delaney also somehow made it into the 17 after departing Headingley on crutches after their semi-final win over St. Helens the previous week.
The men from Headingley started with more purpose but it was the Warriors drew first blood in the fourth minute as Liam Farrell caught Rhinos captain Kevin Sinfield out of place and raced through before handing on to Sydney Roosters bound Joe Burgess for the winger to repeat his try scoring performance from 12 months ago, retiring Matty Bowen added the conversion to give them a six point lead.
Leeds responded immediately though after Matty Smith knocked on from the restart and after the resultant scrum a deft grubber by Sinfield was pounced on by Danny McGuire to score beside the posts, Sinfield’s inevitable conversion brought the Rhinos level in the seventh minute.
Wigan forced the Rhinos to drop out after Tom Briscoe was forced behind his own line and with the sustained pressure Michael McIlorum made a dive for the Leeds try line but he dropped the ball just short.
Tempers threatened to boil over as Brad Singleton was penalised for tackling Burgess in the air from a high kick close to the Warriors line.
The game settled into an arm wrestle in which the most noteworthy incident was a clash of heads between Sinfield and Cuthbertson requiring both Rhinos players to have running repairs with strapping going round their profusely bleeding heads.
A cross-field kick by Steve Prescott Man of Steel winner Zak Hardaker then caused panic in the Warriors defence which ensued in the tackle count being wiped clean by referee Ben Thaler, in a frantic period of play Leeds flung the ball right to left and then back to the right and, despite a possible knock on in the build up by McGuire, the video referees awarded an eventual try to Joel Moon to a chorus of boos from the supporters in Cherry and White, uncharacteristically Sinfield missed the conversion to leave it a four point gap after 28 minutes.
The Warriors then marched to the Leeds end of the pitch and forced some sustained pressure on the Rhinos defensive line with a knock on by Ryan Hall giving them head and feed 10 meters from the Rhinos line but an organised defence from the men in Blue and Amber held them at bay.
Leeds then suddenly cut the Warriors apart with breathtaking speed and ingenuity as Wembley hero Briscoe engineered a break to put Kallum Watkins away down the right and the England Centre handed inside to put McGuire in for his 2nd try of the match, Sinfield’s conversion gave them a 10 point lead that they held for the last four minutes of the half.
Wigan had the first surge into enemy territory of the 2nd half but a pass from Bowen was knocked on by Farrell so the chance was squandered.
A knock on by McGuire then presented the Warriors with territory and possession and then a high shot by the retiring Kylie Leuluai gave the Warriors more possession and then a dangerous grubber was knocked dead by Sinfield forcing the Rhinos to have to drop out from under their posts for the second time in the game.
Sustained pressure from the Warriors on the Rhinos line eventually saw a high bomb from Sean O’ Loughlin stolen by Manfredi from the clutches of Hall for the Wigan man to dive over and put his side back in the contest, Bowen added the extra two points to bring them back within four points seven minutes into the half.
Within two minutes of that the Warriors were back in front for the first time since the 7th minute as Bowen cut his way through feeble Rhinos defence and raced in under the posts and then added the conversion to his try to make it 18-16 to the men from the DW Stadium.
Watkins gave away a soft penalty for a high shot on Farrell which led to more pressure on the Rhinos but this time Wigan managed to lose the ball over the Leeds try line in a frantic piece of play.
McIlorum then claimed a clever penalty as he threw a pass against Watkins in an offside position at the play-the-ball and with 19 minutes remaining Bowen duly obliged to stretch their lead to four points as the pendulum continued to swing their way.
Three minutes later this great sport wrote another great fairytale chapter as young Josh Walters, coming off the bench in his first ever play-off game, scrambled over after the Warriors made a hash of clearing up a high kick and two passes later the teenager was in, Sinfield restored the Rhinos lead with the conversion.
A pitch invader then caused a short stop a few minutes later before the game resumed with the Warriors in possession.
Enthusiasm then got the better of Manfredi as he raised Hall in a dangerous tackle and dumped the England winger on his shoulder.
Desperate defence by the Warriors then led to a scrum for Leeds 10 meters from the line and then more desperation from the Warriors held them at bay somehow.
McIlorum then scragged Burrow to the ground with a head high tackle giving the Rhinos another penalty which was duly dispatched into touch.
Leeds kept forcing the issue but a very well organised defence still kept them out but then just as Tony Clubb seemed to be creating a break in midfield he tried to pass but the ball went forward and hit the deck.
For all the times that commentators Eddie and particularly Stevo kept referring to the superstar names in the Rhinos line-up as the ones who could put this game beyond the Warriors they somehow kept contriving to blow guilt edged chance after chance but, importantly held on to their two point lead.
In a breathless finish the Warriors tried everything they could after gaining possession with a scrum 10 meters from their line but a frantic kick wide was eventually defused by Hall giving way to absolute unbridled joy as they completed the Super League Leaders Shield, Ladbrokes Challenge Cup and Grand Final treble and defeated the Warriors in a major final for the first time in their distinguished history.
Penalties: Wigan 4 Leeds 5
Goal Line Drop Outs: Wigan 0 Leeds 2
Harry Sunderland Trophy Man of the Match: Danny McGuire
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