IT WOULD be no surprise if Daryl Clark, the electric Warrington Wolves hooker, claimed the Harry Sunderland Trophy as man-of-the-match in tonight’s Super League Grand Final.
The Yorkshireman, who first shot to prominence with hometown Castleford Tigers, is just the sort of player made to light up such glittering occasions as this Old Trafford endgame with Wigan Warriors.
Indeed, if it had not been for Hull FC’s gritty and now famous fightback, Clark would almost certainly have won the Challenge Cup version – the Lance Todd Trophy – in August’s Wembley final following a breathtaking individual display.
However, as everyone knows, Warrington squandered a 10-0 lead on the hour to lose 12-10 to the East Yorkshire club, their hopes of a treble cruelly disappearing in a chaotic 20 minutes at the national stadium.
They did, though, gain some form of redemption by winning at Hull a few weeks later to secure the League Leaders’ Shield and the hope is, for everyone of a primrose and blue persuasion, they tonight secure the ultimate prize, too.
Warrington, led by the astute former Leeds Rhinos coach Tony Smith, have not been crowned league champions since as long ago as 1955 so, if they do prosper, expect celebrations to go on for some time.
For the 23-year-old Clark, he is simply eager to get his hands on one of the sport’s main prizes having also lost the Challenge Cup final with hometown Castleford to Leeds in 2014.
“I’m hoping it’s going to be third time lucky in a final come Saturday,” he told The Yorkshire Post.
“It was and still is massively disappointing what happened six weeks ago, probably more so as we know we were in such a good position to win it.
“A couple of years before with Cas, we were out of the game for most of it but this time, against Hull, we were 10-0 up with just 18 minutes to go.
“It’s two different circumstances but after losing twice at Wembley I’m hoping it will be different now and I am looking forward to it.”
Part of the reason Warrington – who lost both their previous Grand Finals in 2012 and 2013 – are in such a promising position is the improved form of Clark whose pace and direct running out of dummy-half have terrorised defences this term.
It is a reminder of 2014 when, during a glorious campaign at Castleford, he won Man of Steel, Super League’s Young Player of the Year and an England debut in the Four Nations.
Warrington forked out a six-figure fee to buy him, too, but his first season there was a struggle.
Clark admitted: “It was a bit of a whirlwind 2014; it was a stand-out year and I knew it’d be hard to replicate that.
“Obviously last season was massively disappointing both personally and as a side.
“I always knew, though, that I would get back to that sort of form with Warrington.
“To turn it around, make a couple of finals and win the League Leaders is great and it always helps you as an individual if the team is going well, too, as they have.
“But we want to finish it all off now on Saturday.”
Wigan, though, are making a fourth straight visit to Old Trafford and, regardless of all their well-documented injury problems, are intent on becoming champions for the first time since beating Warrington three years ago.
As Hull discovered in their semi-final, they remain one of the hardest sides to defeat with that sheer doggedness and determination instilled by coach Shaun Wane.
Clark conceded: “They’ve had a lot of key players missing and still to be in the Grand Final after all that shows what they are about.
“I don’t think it matters which team they field on Saturday, you know they will be good enough to do the job so we have to be at our best.”
Another reason for Warrington’s rise in 2016, aside from Clark’s return to his best form and the acquisition of veteran Australian half-back Kurt Gidley, is the impact of another Castlefordian – Joe Westerman.
The one-time England loose forward, who started in Tigers academy like Clark, was bought from Hull for around £150,000 and proved influential.
An image of the delighted pair holding the League Leaders’ Shield together a fortnight ago will have resonated back in Castleford.
Clark said: “That was my first bit of silverware and so, to win it with someone I’ve known a long time, made it all the better.
“He’s been great for us this season – it’s not taken him a year to settle in! – and hopefully he’ll carry that on Saturday.
“I never actually played with Westy at Cas. He moved to Hull at the end of the season before I made my debut.
“But I’d trained with him for a couple of years when I first came into the Cas squad and it’s great to now play alongside him with Warrington.”
Meanwhile, having been dropped by England last term, Clark is hoping to get the nod in Wayne Bennett’s Four Nations squad which is named on Monday.
If the Australian coaching guru needed any swaying, that man-of-the-match display – Clark is joint favourite at 8/1 with Wolves team-mates Gidley and Chris Sandow plus Wigan’s George Williams, John Bateman and Matty Smith – would certainly help.