A SEASON low on quality got the Grand Final it deserved.
There was a school of thought after Wigan Warriors’ 12-4 win over Warrington Wolves that it had been a classic because it was hard-fought and close throughout, but the standard was as low as any Old Trafford showpiece in the event’s 20-year history.
Wigan were deserved winners and champions.
The best team over the course of the season, St Helens, were not present, but Wigan were the superior side when it mattered.
There or thereabouts all year, they got stronger as the campaign went on and were head and shoulders above everyone else in the Super-8s and play-offs, winning every game after the end of the regular season.
It was a fitting finalé for their departing coach Shaun Wane.
He may not be everybody’s cup of tea, but he wears his heart on his sleeve and is a ‘character’.
The game needs those and he will be welcome when he returns to rugby league, from his new job with Scotland’s union set-up, preferably sooner rather than later.
Wigan’s defence and three moments of magic on attack won them the title at the end of a season when they were also crowned academy and Women’s Super League champions.
Warrington started well, but faded and – other than a superb individual effort by full-back Stefan Ratchford, who was voted man of the match – their attack lacked ideas.
Both teams made a host of errors and at the end of the first half Wigan continually turned the ball over in their own territory, but Warrington could not take advantage.
Eventually it will be their year. Under Steve Price they have made strides this season and from the Qualifiers in 2017 to both major finals and fourth spot in the Betfred Super League table is a good achievement.
They scored first through ex-Wigan winger Josh Charnley, who has been an inspired signing, but Tyrone Roberts could not add the extras and once Wigan got points on the board they always looked in command.
Their opening try was a cracker, Oliver Gildart carving out the opening for Dom Manfredi, who has made a fairytale return from a two-year injury lay-off.
Tom Davies scored the second, sliding over to touch down George Williams’ clever kick.
That was on the half-hour mark and there was no further scoring until three minutes from time when Manfredi scored his second, off Sam Tomkins’ pass. It was the first Grand Final with no goals, Tomkins also missing a long-range penalty.
In his final game before joining Catalans Dragons he was fortunate not to be yellow carded at least once, having tripped Bryson Goodwin and then slid with his knees into Daryl Clark.
The Rugby Football League will today study the match commissioner’s report into a scuffle in the tunnel area as the players left the field at half-time.
The attendance of 64,892 was the lowest at a Grand Final since 2009. A train strike didn’t help, but Super League should be able to sell out its biggest event every year.
This was the sixth meeting between the teams this year, having faced each other in every competition – home and away, Magic Weekend, Challenge Cup, Super-8s and Grand Final.
Wigan Warriors: Tomkins, Manfredi, Gildart, Sarginson, Davies, Williams, Leuluai, Navarette, Powell, Flower, Greenwood, Bateman, O’Loughlin. Subs Escare, Sutton, Farrell, Clubb.
Warrington Wolves: Ratchford, Lineham, Goodwin, T King, Charnley, Brown, Roberts, Hill, Clark, Cooper, Thompson, Hughes, Westwood. Subs Philbin, Murdoch-Masila, G King, Patton.
Referee: Robert Hicks (Oldham).