The 18th man column: ‘Bench will be crucial’

Matty Smith and Chris Hill get to grips with the trophy

Matty Smith and Chris Hill get to grips with the trophy

Our 18th man columnists look ahead to Saturday’s Grand Final showdown...

“I’ll be embarrassed if we win the Grand Final, it’s been an awful, awful season”.

That was something I said, in the heat of the moment at the hooter on that awful night against Widnes at the DW.

Fans booed that night.

That was the sense of frustration that we really could just roll along all the way until the play off semi-final and just turn up and become “champions” when it actually mattered.

Afterwards it was pointed out that it hasn’t been that awful because we were in the top four and within a shout of Old Trafford.

Changing room celebrations after the semi-final

Changing room celebrations after the semi-final

You readers can draw your own conclusions on that, but my thoughts were actually more towards the standard of the whole game rather than Wigan itself. I can see that it didn’t really come across like that, in the heat of the moment, on a day I’d received some tough family news.

I actually thought pretty quickly that I was being a bit harsh but, rather than deleting it, I thought ‘leave it’, that’s the emotion of being a Wigan fan.

High standards are expected and the attack has been well short for long periods this year, but if two fingers are wanting to be stuck up at me after success on Saturday night, I’ll be highly delighted!

I mean, since that night the attack has started to perform and excite, and it’s been a great boost during a difficult month for me personally.

I think the key for a Wigan win on Saturday is most certainly the performance and make-up of the interchange bench. Even though Wigan had been in good form, the middle sections of games have still been a weak point in recent times.

While the comeback win at Warrington last month will be remembered fondly, it’s also has to be remembered that Wigan should have lost, really.

Even regardless of being a man down, losing by 28-14 is not a great score to find yourselves in, but perhaps tellingly all 28 points worth of damage came between the 23rd and 49th minutes.

For me, that period in the game should be Wigan’s focus, and understanding what went wrong in that period could be a significant factor on Saturday.

The same thing has occurred in both games against Hull recently.

They dominated the middle sections of both contests and, while it’s impressive we still had the capacity to come from behind and get the win, surely we can’t rely on that in the final?

I’m not sure what the answer to the conundrum is, but we can’t afford to be dominated and soft around the ruck like we were at Warrington in the middle part of the game last month.

Bilko

So we got through to the Grand Final after a blistering start, and once again are under the cosh injury wise.

We will no doubt go in as underdogs, but that suits us fine, nothing to lose.

The Hull game showed just what a Wembley victory takes out of you. But boy did they give us one hell of a scare before belief saw us home.

This Wigan side have now made it to the last four Grand Finals – can’t be that bad. In the game there was once again plenty of talking points.

Like when Sarginson got cleaned out but nothing said by ref or touch judges. But surely the biggest talking point was the Gildart try disallowed and back to the other end to allow a Hull try.

Correctly in my opinion, but how long does it take to decide – it took Thaler an eternity!

The debate kicked off, brilliantly led in his interview by ‘man of the people’ Gelling.

I think it’s time Sky dropped the video ref and the decision should be made on the field. The technology is putting on too much pressure to get it right first time every time.

The decisions will even out or do we go like the Aussie and get two refs.

Anyhow on to the final, what a cracker it promises to be, and I have sympathy for Saints because they were definitely robbed.

However, the big-game experience and the never-say-die attitude of this Wigan team will see us through.

This season has seen the emergence of new faces. Players that will stand Wigan in good stead for many years.

It must go down as a successful season runners up in the league, semi-final of cup and grand finalists.

The spectators, in my opinion, have not given the players, the staff, the chairman and mainly Shaun Wane the credit they deserve.

We have 20 fit players left out of a squad of 35, and that tells you how much we have been ravaged by injuries.

Yet we knuckled down and got on with it and proved the doubters wrong.

I hope we win the Grand Final for the departing players, but mainly Matty Smith.

This guy has been pilloried by sections of the crowd – undeservedly.

The final thing ahead of Saturday’s final is do as the Warriors have done all season...“BELIEVE”.

Best of luck guys.

Joseph Charnock

Old Trafford here we come…. the Warriors reached their fourth consecutive Grand Final with a hard-fought victory against Challenge Cup winners Hull FC and, as has been the tale of the season, gave their fans plenty of late drama until finally sealing the victory.

John Bateman barged over on the stroke of half-time after Hull had charged down Smith’s attempted drop-goal to add to Wigan’s two early Tierney tries, giving a comfortable 14-0 half-time lead.

But Hull came out fighting and were back to within two points barely 10 minutes into the second half after good tries from Watts and Bowden.

Smith nudged the lead back to four with a penalty soon after, and then came the most bizarre video ref sequence I can remember.

After a loose ball over their own line, Oliver Gildart ran the length of the pitch and was awarded a try by Rob Hicks, who wanted to check what happened near the Wigan line. It turns out Steve Michaels got a fingertip on the ball and, after what seemed like an eternity (well over five minutes), Hull were awarded the try, giving them the advantage with a quarter of the game left.

The Warriors never gave in and started throwing the ball about, and were rewarded for their endeavour with Sam Powell collecting an Isa pass and giving Wigan the lead back.

Then after withstanding a fair amount of Hull pressure, the Warriors forced a goal-line drop-out after a superb kick and chase, and Anthony Gelling found a gap and cruised through to seal the win 28-18.

So the Warriors’ focus shifts to the Warrington Wolves. Both sides will be desperate for the win on Saturday – Warrington as they have never won a Grand Final before and will be seeking revenge for their 2013 defeat, while Wigan will be wanting to avoid losing a third consecutive final and another disappointing season.

It really is tough to call and, while Wigan have the better form and have the confidence of the victory over the Wolves a few weeks ago, Warrington have fewer injuries to contend with.

The one big positive from a Wigan perspective is that they have ground out so many wins late on this season, and their defence has been the major factor in getting to this stage.

Regardless of the missing personnel, it seems the players will put their bodies on the line for each other, and that will stand them in good stead come Saturday.

If Wigan can keep Warrington close early on then I believe they will just sneak it. Here’s hoping.

David Bailey

OMG! Although we all hoped we could do a job on Hull, I can’t remember speaking to anyone before the game who was brimming with confidence.

We had done so much to get this far and, with the dark scythe of our injury crisis falling again, confirming that Sam Tomkins and Sean O’Loughlin will both be absent for the remaining games, an atmosphere of Que Sera Sera had settled over many.

It seems, however, that the team talk did not include these sentiments, and we had some players out there who were fighting for the club like never before.

The way that Sarginson put himself in harm’s way saved many points from a heavy-handed Hull side, and the spirit of this lad shone for all to see.

I can now see why the Australians want a good look at him. But my man of the match, actually my player of the season, would be Sam Powell.

Once more this young man repaid the confidence shown in him from the club by performing above and beyond his youthful presence.

He has had a baptism of fire in 2016 with the steepest of learning curves but, as Kris Radlinski once said to me, ‘he is the absolute professional’.

When he rejoined the game in the second half, the influence he had was apparent to all as the pace quickened and we took control once more. He was instrumental in our success.

As the final hooter sounded, the sheer joy and celebration that the Wigan club showed was indicative of just how much it means to everyone involved. I was particularly touched by the sight of Ben Flower as he hugged the players in a mixture of gratitude and relief that his ban had not cost the squad their shot at the trophy.

But the bottom line is we have made it, against all odds, and in spite of many obstructions that have been laid in our path.

This of course is the Wigan way and I can’t hear many of the voices calling for Shaun Wane’s head any more.

Another Grand Final and a chance to write our names in the history books, if we play with the same spirit that we have seen over this year, then I can’t see Warrington standing a chance.

A final word of congratulations and commiserations as Salford managed to retain their Super League status at the expense of Hull KR.

I am so pleased Salford will play top flight again in 2017, and wonder what the good Doctor Koukash has in store for us all.

Somehow I don’t think it will take long to find out.

Bring it on Doc.

Darren Wrudd