DURING HIS last press conference as Wigan Warriors coach, Shaun Wane expressed his hope two-try Dom Manfredi would be the “big story” of their Super League Grand Final success.
He need not have worried. It was always going to be the case.
Yes, Wane was leaving after seven years in his dream job, and England stars Sam Tomkins and John Bateman among others were heading off, too, so they all got their perfect ending.
However, speaking to anyone from Wigan in the bowels of Old Trafford on Saturday night, it was hard to escape the subject of that man Manfredi.
His double helped see off the challenge of Warrington Wolves in a tense and scrappy conclusion to the Super League season, capping his own remarkable return to form and fitness.
Manfredi, 25, missed more than two years of action after suffering an ACL injury in 2016 and, then, on his return for Wigan’s reserves, doing the same again.
I have to give a massive thanks to the physios, medical staff and the boys. I’ve a lot to owe Waney, too. I’d probably be working on a building site if it wasn’t for him.Dom Manfredi
At one point, he feared he would have to retire but he made a successful comeback last month, ironically against Warrington, and proved heroic here.
As well as scoring twice, Manfredi produced a crucial try-saving tackle on Tom Lineham when his side still led just 8-4.
In the process, he suffered a gaping wound to his eye which saw him need to leave the field, returning stitched and bandaged up before sealing victory in the 76th minute.
“If you’d have told me that six months ago I’d have said ‘shut up, I’ve no chance’,” Manfredi explained, retelling his exploits.
“There was some dark times during that two years. I felt like giving up a lot of times. I just sat down and said ‘this is my last chance. I’ll give it everything. If it’s not good enough, it’s not good enough but at least I’ve tried’.
“I’ve come along way. I’d actually started doing a HGV driving course and was about to do my test but as I was getting fitter I pushed that back.
“Just (the prospect) of playing an 80-minute game is what me pulled me through it all, never mind playing a Grand Final.
“I have to give a massive thanks to the physios, medical staff and the boys. I’ve a lot to owe Waney, too. I’d probably be working on a building site if it wasn’t for him.”
Manfredi – who missed the 2016 Grand Final win over Warrington with that injury – said there was “no doubt” he would return from that gruesome cut.
“It (the problem) was just because it wasn’t my eye-brow, it was my eye-lid,” he added.
“The blood was just going straight into my eye-ball so I couldn’t really see anything. So it needed stitching up but Brooksy (Dr Chris Brookes) nailed that in about five minutes so I was back out there and I’m made up.”
His colleagues were just as elated for him. Bateman, who leaves to join Canberra Raiders with prop Ryan Sutton, said: “He was going to quit rugby a year ago and look at him now. I played with Dom three years ago and as a young kid with England as well and – no disrespect to any other winger in the comp – but he is the best winger I’ve ever come across.
“What he does for us is fantastic and I can’t see why he won’t play for England.”
Wigan centre Dan Sarginson added: “It’s unbelievable. When he played his first game back and scored a couple of tries, that was a great feeling when I consider how close I am to Dom.
“Some of the conversations I had with his mum about how nervous he was about coming back, and how close he was to quitting rugby, I was pretty emotional when he did.
“To see him out there again today, he’s definitely one of the best wingers in the competition.”
However, Sarginson’s own performance deserves special mention given his own tragic personal circumstances. His younger brother Adam died suddenly at the start of last month aged just 23.
Former England centre Sarginson bravely played in Wigan’s next game and duly helped them round off the season on a 10-match winning run.
“My little brother came two years ago when we won it and it was one of the best days of his life,” he said. “I had about an hour on Friday night when I needed a couple of coaches to calm me down because I was in a bit of a state. I just wanted to go out there and win for him. I wasn’t thinking about anything else and that still hasn’t sunk in yet.
“I’m sure there will be more tears later, but I’ve done it for him. My other brother was here and has experienced that today and my grandma who never really gets to see me play.”
Warrington opened the scoring via Josh Charnley but were then too erratic with the ball although Tomkins was lucky not to be carded for a trip and a knee into Daryl Clark’s head.
Tom Davies added Wigan’s second try before the break and it proved enough.
Wigan Warriors: Tomkins; Manfredi, Gildart, Sarginson, Davies; Williams, Leuluai; Navarrete, Powell, Flower, Greenwood, Bateman, O’Loughlin. Substitutes: Escare, Sutton, Farrell, Clubb.
Warrington Wolves: Ratchford; Lineham, Goodwin, T King, Charnley; Brown, Roberts; Hill, Clark, Cooper, Thompson, Hughes, Westwood. Substitutes: Philbin, Murdoch-Masila, G King, Patton.
Referee: Robert Hicks (Oldham)