Wolves edged out by Warriors in Grand Finale
Warrington Wolves 16 Wigan Warriors 30
By Rachel Arnett (photo courtesy of Neil Ashurst, P&B Pictures)
A north-west Grand Final between local rivals Warrington and Wigan was the showpiece many had been waiting for since the Super League era began.
The stage was set at Old Trafford for a classic derby encounter as the Wolves targeted their first league title since 1955. Second would take on fourth to bring down the curtain on Super League XVIII.
Recent meetings between the two sides ended in a draw and a close-fought win for the Wolves. But, with a lot more at stake on this occasion, form and past results wouldn't come into play as the sides took to the big stage.
The Wolves named an unchanged 17 from the team that defeated Huddersfield in last week's semi final but the Warriors made one change with O'Loughlin returning to the starting 13; Logan Tomkins missing out on a spot in the 17.
Wolves put in a valiant effort but the Warriors proved too strong as the primrose and blue fell at the final hurdle. The opening half was packed with everything. The Warriors edged into the lead early on with a penalty goal but it was then the turn of the Wolves to switch on their attack and dominate the next period of play scoring three tries. The Warriors clawed one back just on half time to set up for another intense forty. The second half saw Wigan come into their own as they kept Wolves scoreless. They were able to dominate possession and prevent the Wolves from breaking through the defence.
Wigan got the game underway with the Wolves first in attack. A steady first set was kicked deep down field by Briers to settle any early nerves.
Play was paused in the second minute as Warriors' Green stayed down injured following a hard-hitting tackle but medical staff deemed him fit to stay on the field of play.
The opening period of play saw both sides looking to find their feet with end-to-end play and deep, high kicks on the last.
On five minutes the first opportunity came for Wigan with quick passing to the right wing; Goudling's pass to Charnley was mis-timed but the Wolves defence came in and knocked the ball out of play handing a scrum to the Warriors 30 metres out. Pressure mounted but the scrambling defence managed to keep them out.
Play then switched ends and it was the Wolves mounting an attack. A cross kick by Myler was scooped up by the Warriors defence forcing a drop-out and a repeat set for the Wolves. Higham came to within inches from dummy half before Joel Monaghan came close from a high kick.
The Warriors then took the lead on 11 minutes when Richards kicked a penalty goal from 40 metres out. A 40/20 from Green put the Warriors into a strong position in the scrum just minutes later. But the Wolves managed to shut the door on several occasions as the Cherry and Whites kept looking to break the line. Riley was on hand to pounce on the ball from a ricocheted kick on the last to halt their attack.
Briers attempted a piece of ingenious play at the opposite end with a dummy followed by a chip kick which saw him come close but the defence was in place to take the ball.
Then the scoring began. On 19 minutes a Tomkins kick was charged down by Myler. The tackle that followed saw Wigan concede a penalty giving the Wolves a stronger field position; from there the Wolves gathered pace and the set ended with a high cross field kick by Briers which Joel Monaghan jumped up to collect and ground the ball in the corner for the opening try. Ratchford was unable to add the touchline conversion 4-2
Richards' restart went out on the full giving the Wolves the possession they needed for try number two; Higham from dummy half sent a short ball to Grix who had the strength to twist and ground the ball in the tackle. Ratchford added the conversion to extend the lead 10-2
A high Briers' kick had a part to play once again in the next try; the ball was left to bounce and Riley was able to remain calm and react to pick it up cleanly. A quick dummy from Briers followed, before he floated a pass out to Westwood who darted over on 27 minutes. Again the conversion was added. 16-2
The resulting restart was left by the Wolves forcing a drop-out and offering Wigan a chance to respond but Charnley was tackled out into touch by a swarm of Wolves defenders.
The Primrose and Blue came to within inches again through Bridge before the Warriors started to test the defence with repeat sets. An injury to Joel Monaghan stopped play two minutes from half time and saw the winger stretchered off the pitch.
The Warriors picked up pace from the scrum restart and play carried to the right where Goulding found a gap to dart over for a try. Richards' goal attempt was missed. This was to be the final say of the half.
Half Time: 16-6
Wigan came out firing in the opening stages of the second half, mounting their intentions in attack from the start. Farrell looked to have had the space to run in after the first few minutes but lost possession following a distracting ankle tackle.
It wasn't long before a score came. On 48 minutes McIlorum went over from dummy half right next to the posts handing Richards an easy conversion from in front. The difference was now just four points.
An interception by Grix was a try-saver as Wigan mounted a repeat attack almost immediately. Ratchford took a hard hit soon after and left the field as the Warriors gathered pace turning Wolves' sights back on defence. But the Warriors kept the ball alive as Wolves chased and Charnley was able to follow up a grubber kick to level the score on 52 minutes before Richards added the extras to nudge ahead. 16-18
Another score looked on the cards almost immediately but Charnley couldn't quite take the ball in on that occasion handing a scrum to the Warrington outfit.
The lead was extended, however, when Green took an inside ball to dart over under the posts on 65 minutes. Richards' boot was on target once again from directly in front 16-24.
The Warriors had certainly lifted in the second half, taking a stranglehold on the game making the Wolves work for their field position.
With just eight minutes left on the clock Richards stayed on the deck after a tackle but was able to continue as Wigan's momentum continued.
The match was sealed with a Richards try in the corner. A looping pass from O'Loughlin put the winger over in his last game for the Cherry and Whites. He added the conversion to make it 16-30 with five left on the clock.
Matty Smith attempted a drop goal to round off the victory but it drifted wide and the game ended 16 points to 30.
Wolves' head of coaching and rugby Tony Smith said: "It (the injuries) was disruptive of course but you'd hope to be able to handle those sorts of situations. The second half field position hurt us more than anything else; rather than the positional changes. I think we still had good personnel but just having to defend your own line and Wigan are fantastic at scoring close to the line; the McIlorum try followed by the Green try, from 10 metres out they are very good. Our discipline was an issue big time; we got smashed field position wise and with penalties in the second half and you just can't do that to Wigan they are too good and they were too good tonight. They deserved to win on the back of all that field position. They are a dangerous team and to do the double they've done a really big effort and deserve a lot of accolades for that feat.
"We had a great first half. We were dominant; I thought our defence was committed. We were disappointed in conceding after such a long break there when Joel was stretchered off; we had enough time to gain our composure but they put on a quality play; aside from that in the first half I thought we were very good. Second half we just didn't do enough. They were relentless in what they did. They just kept banging away through the middle there and got down to that end of the field and came up with good plays that hurt.
"I'm really proud of the efforts of my boys. We've had another fantastic season. In the time I've been here who would have predicted five years ago that we'd have been at Old Trafford two years running. Yeah we've come out losing both those games but I'd rather be in here having lost at Old Trafford than not be here at all. We are in there competing and we will be in here competing again next year. I can't guarantee I'll be back in this room next year as a victorious or losing coach; I can tell you you'd be hard fought to stop us. We'll be determined again next year to get back here. We like coming here, like competing and if we keep competing we will get it right at some stage."
Forward Chris Hill added: "Deeply disappointing. The first half I thought we controlled the game, second half a few injuries took their toll I think. But we can't complain, we've had a good season with a Grand Final. We didn't quite make it to the Challenge Cup but we are here again, we need to get that one step further. I thought we had it today. There was just a period in the second half where we were flat and they took their opportunities.
"Some of the lads did a lot longer minutes than they usually do but that was the hand we were dealt. We are losing a few boys and I think it was a bit more disappointing that we couldn't send them out on a high.
"The fans are the best in Super League. They follow us both home and away. I do feel for them; thank you for coming out in numbers tonight it was a really good atmosphere."
Stefan Ratchford, Chris Riley, Chris Bridge, Ryan Atkins, Joel Monaghan, Lee Briers, Richie Myler, Paul Wood, Micky Higham, Chris Hill, Ben Westwood, Simon Grix, Ben Harrison
Subs: Adrian Morley, Michael Monaghan, Garreth Carvell, Mike Cooper
Tries: J Monaghan, Grix, Westwood
Goals: Ratchford (2)
Sam Tomkins, Josh Charnley, Darrell Goulding, Iain Thornley, Pat Richards, Blake Green, Matty Smith, Gil Dudson, Michael McIlorum, Lee Mossop, Harrison Hansen, Liam Farrell, Sean O'Loughlin
Subs: Jack Hughes, Ben Flower, Scott Taylor, Dominic Crosby
Tries: Goulding, McIlorum, Charnley, Green, Richards
Goals: Richards (5)
05, Oct, 2013