Wigan Warriors will face Hull FC in the 2017 Challenge Cup Final after beating Salford Red Devils 27-14 in an absolute thriller down at the Halliwell Jones Stadium. Despite being behind, and having two players sent to the sin-bin, Wigan got the job done.
WIGAN MAKE A FLYING START
You never know what to expect in a game like this. Wigan are the more experienced, but sometimes that can go against you. However, they showed all their class and experience in the opening 20 minutes of this game as they got off to an absolute flying start. I say that, the opening seconds of the game wasn’t great for the Warriors, as they knocked on from their first set with ball in hand. But from that point on, it was great.
Tom Davies had two tries rightfully chalked off in the opening six minutes. On the first he had a foot in touch, and the second was a forward pass from Anthony Gelling. It was a real early warning to Salford, as Wigan looked to pounce. They finally got their try in the eighth minute as Oliver Gildart was on the end of a superb George Williams pass, to go over for the games first try. Wigan took an early 6-0 lead.
Minutes later, following a Williams penalty, Wigan scored their second of the game. It was once again some brilliant work from Williams, who found Willie Isa with a short inside ball, and the New Zealander walked through the Salford defence for the try. Williams missed the conversion, but Wigan still led 12-0 after just 16 minutes. It was a quick start to the game from Wigan, who were looking dangerous on the attack.
SALFORD COME BACK STRONG
Wigan were in full control, and looked good to extend their lead further. In the opening 20 minutes, Salford didn’t threaten the Wigan line enough to score, and looked rather nervous. However, in the 23rd minute, they started their tremendous comeback, as the ball was swooped out wide, and ultimately found Greg Johnson who finished it off. It was a great try, and one that the Red Devils needed. Wigan still led 12-6.
From the resulting kick-off, the ball bounced and finally found the hands of Johnson who ran straight through the gap and over the halfway line. They were pilling the pressure on now, and minutes later, they were level. It was on a superb klick through from Michael Dobson, that new boy Tyrone McCarthy was on hand to score the first try for his new club. Suddenly, the game was level at 12-12, after just 26 minutes.
Salford continued to put the pressure on, and we’re now the side in full control of the game as they attacked the Wigan line with real aggression. On the half-hour mark, Sam Tomkins was harshly sent to the sin-bin, for what was considered a professional foul. Dobson would kick the resulting penalty, and the comeback was complete, as Salford led for the first time in the game, at 14-12.
WIGAN FIND THEIR GROOVE
Wigan saw off the remaining 10 minutes of the first half with 12-men, and did so rather well. Salford took a narrow 14-12 lead into halftime, and it was all still to play for in the second, it was brilliantly poised. It was Wigan who needed a good start to the second half, as you felt that if Salford got the first try and their tails up, it would’ve been a real tough road back for the Warriors.
Wigan made a promising start to the second half, and should’ve been ahead when Joe Burgess scored. However, the video referee deemed that he knocked on and it was disallowed. Wigan didn’t let that get them down, as they levelled the game up through a Williams penalty, following a ball steal. Wigan started to raise their game again, and the fans sensed a change in fortune.
On the hour mark, Michael McIlorum put Wigan ahead with a superb pick-up from a Burgess kick inside to go under the sticks. Wigan now led 20-14 with 20 minutes to go, in what was a great contest. The atmosphere was superb throughout, but you could feel the tension around the stadium as the game entered the final stages. Then, the weather took a turn for the worse as it started to absolutely pour it down with rain.
CHANGE IN WEATHER – WIGAN CAPITALISE
The sudden change in weather came as the game was entering its final 15 minutes, and it was going to change the game, and change both sides approach. Wigan seemed to adapt to the change in weather best, and in the 66th minute, Sam Tomkins kicked a crucial drop-goal to put Wigan seven points ahead at 21-14. It was a great move from the Wigan full-back, who showed smarts to put Wigan closer to that Wembley dream.
Both sides were feeling the pressure, and it was worse for Salford as they needed to find some points, as time was ticking away. They pushed the Wigan line a few times, but didn’t have enough to get over for the try. Then, in the 72nd minute, Anthony Gelling was sent to the sin-bin following some rather stupid play, as he headed the ball away as Salford were set to start an attack. It added some unneeded pressure on the Warriors.
Wigan were doing it tough, and in the 78th minute, Gildart would seal the game, and officially send Wigan to Wembley with a try near the posts. It had been a tremendous game of rugby league, one that both sets of players and fans can be proud of. But there can be only one winner, and this time around it was Wigan Warriors, who will go on to face Hull FC in the Challenge Cup Final on the 26th August, at Wembley Stadium.
Wigan Warriors head coach Shaun Wane:
“This feels fantastic, last year was tough to take, Salford are a champion club but to get back to Wembley is fantastic.
“We’ve another job to do now. We did 20 minutes with 12 men, it’s unacceptable and we’ll fix it but we’ll enjoy it and get ready for Leeds now.
“Salford made it a great game in testing conditions, it shows you what a great game rugby league is.”
Salford Red Devils head coach Ian Watson:
“It was a big effort by our boys, but these are the games players want to be involved in and we will be involved in these again.
“The more experience we can take from these games and learn from them the better, we’ve got to take the lessons from this into the Super 8s.
“It’s devastating, it’s a tough loss but we will focus on what we need to do for the rest of the year.”
IN THE SHEDS
There were no immediate injuries to report from either side following the game.
The RFL could be busy this week when looking back at this game. There were three incidents put on report, two sin-bins and plenty of big hits.
For Wigan, Sam Powell could be in trouble following his poorly timed tackle on Lama Tasi in the 27th minute, which was put on report. In the second half, Willie Isa hit Todd Carney late off the ball in the 73rd minute, it wasn’t caught by the referee, but put on report.
As for Salford, Lama Tasi caught Taulima Tautai rather high with his shoulder in the 56th minute. The referee put the incident on report, and a penalty was given.
Wigan Warriors: (12) 27
Tries: Gildart 2, Isa, McIlorum
Conversions: Williams 3/4
Penalties: Williams 2/3
Drop-goal: S Tomkins 1/1
Salford Red Devils: (14) 14
Tries: Johnson, McCarthy
Conversions: Dobson 2/2
Penalties: Dobson 1/1
Wigan Warriors: S Tomkins, Davies, Gelling, Gildart, Burgess, Williams, Leuluai, Nuuausala, McIlorum, Sutton, Bateman, Isa, O’Loughlin
Interchanges: J Tomkins, Clubb, Powell, Tautai.
Salford Red Devils: Evalds, Vatuvei, Sa’u, Welham, Johnson, Carney, Dobson, Kopczak, L Tomkins, Tasi, Jones, Murdoch-Masila, Hauraki.
Interchanges: O’Brien, McCarthy, Krasniqi, Griffin.
Referee: James Child
Venue: Halliwell Jones Stadium, Warrington
Date/Time: Sunday 30th July 2017 – 14:30pm GMT