Jack Harbidge reviews the Super League Grand Final between fierce rivals St Helens and Wigan Warriors at the KCOM Stadium…Here’s how the game went.
|40th||Penalty Goal – Lachlan Coote (St Helens)||St Helens 2-0|
|66th||Try – Jake Bibby (Wigan)||Wigan 4-2|
|72nd||Penalty Goal – Lachlan Coote (St Helens)||Tie 4-4|
|81st||Try – Jack Welsby (St Helens)||St Helens 8-4|
|81st||No Goal Attempted (St Helens)||St Helens 8-4|
With somewhat of a misleading scoreline, this years renewal of the Grand Final proved one of the most exciting since the competition’s inception in 1996. Somewhat against the grain of theory behind emotion arousal, the competition’s first Grand Final to be held behind closed proved to be one of the highest intensity contests to grace the fans of Super League, who all watched from the comfort of their own home.
The exceptional intensity from both sides manifested itself in the defence throughout the first half, epitomised by the commitment from the Saints’ goal line defence effort to hold up Zak Hardaker with a swarm of five players just over 27 minutes in. In fact, Hardaker produced the closest finish of the half, with both sides trading sets in a fascinating arm wrestle.
Wigan were first to succumb to the mounting pressure, with Morgan Smithies letting his aggression get the better of him to concede a shoulder charge penalty that gave Lachlan Coote the opportunity to put his side in front with a kick to the right of the sticks. Coote duly obliged and Saints went into the half-time sheds 2-0 up.
The first half of the second stanza followed a similar pattern to the opening changes between the two sides, with both trading sets and, while it looked like Saints had the upper hand, they couldn’t capitalise. The closest the defending champions came to crossing the whitewash was through Zeb Taia, who dotted down on his last career appearance only to be judged offside by the video referee.
Jake Bibby looked to put his side ahead with an elongated slide from over five metres out, only to be denied by the sticky surface. The Wigan winger soon atoned for his lack of judgement and dived over off shape down the right edge to put his side ahead. Hardaker looked to have nailed to conversion to put Wigan four points up with just fifteen minutes left, only for the crossbar to keep the attempt out.
The missed conversion would prove crucial with St Helens battling back into the game through ten minutes following the Jake Bibby try. With Wigan on the back foot, Jackson Hastings conceded a high tackle penalty which later led to a compounding penalty that allowed Coote to level the game up with just seven minutes to go.
Saints pressed for a winner in the closing stages, with Theo Fages missing a drop goal attempt to give Wigan a 20m tap. He then compounded the miss by gifting Wigan a kickable penalty from around 45 metres out on an angle. Hardaker pushed the penalty wide for the Warriors and Saints were afforded a final set to set up for a drop goal.
With Fages caught up in the 5th tackle, Tommy Makinson stepped up and nailed the top of the right upright from 40 metres out. With the ball bouncing off the upright back into play, Bevan French fell foul of the bounce of the ball, only for Jack Welsby to pounce on it just in time and clinch the title for St Helens on the hooter.
The game highlight undoubtedly came from Jack Welsby, who unlike many of the other Saints players, gave chase to a seemingly lost cause and was rewarded handsomely for his effort. The 19-year old was able to send St Helens legend James Graham off in fine style and it looked as though his efforts were well appreciated by the former Canterbury Bulldogs captain. Unfortunately it will go down as one of the most painful endings for any Wigan fan, but this last minute try was arguably the most exciting Grand Final finish to date.
Wigan Warriors: French; Bibby, Hardaker, Gildart, J Burgess; Leuluai, Hastings; Bullock, Powell, Singleton, Isa, Farrell, Partington. Replacements: Clubb, Greenwood, O’Loughlin, Smithies.
St Helens: Coote; Makinson, Naiqama, Welsby, Grace; Lomax, Fages; Walmsley, Roby, Graham, Taia, Bentley, Knowles. Replacements: Peyroux, McCarthy-Scarsbrook, Lees, Amor.