The 18th man: Warriors fans deliver their Grand Final predictions

Sean O'Loughlin celebrates reaching the Grand Final
Sean O'Loughlin celebrates reaching the Grand Final
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Our columnists look ahead to Saturday’s title showdown between Wigan and Leeds...

It’s interesting that I write this after Liverpool FC have just sacked their manager Brendan Rodgers after winning three of their first eight Premier League matches, because Wigan began this campaign with a not-too-dissimilar four wins from their first nine matches.

The top table at yesterday's Grand Final press conference

The top table at yesterday's Grand Final press conference

If Maurice Lindsay and Dave Whelan were still the hierarchy, a coaching change would have been made after that dodgy start. I mean we saw it with the likes of Frank Endacott, Stuart Raper and even Denis Betts.

Panicking was good for nobody, though. We had a dire decade in which standards were allowed to slip by the end of it to seemingly accepting mediocre.

I recall though the tweets that came in for Shaun Wane to be sacked as I commentated on an awful Wigan display at Castleford for Wish FM in March. The calls were not something I would ever have agreed with, but fans are entitled to their opinion because standards had certainly slipped that night.

Thing was after the game I saw the pain in the eyes of Wane. His hurt of “the worst night of his coaching career” was clear to see. That is the difference today. A slip in standards is no longer acceptable and, while it’s been a bumpy ride – away from home especially – we have looked great in the Super 8s. It’s actually a great recovery from that start to have been just milliseconds away from the League Leaders’ Shield and now into the Grand Final. While all the talk will be about Leeds’ treble chances, I do think we are actually the favourites.

Leeds looked dog tired against Saints on Friday and I think it’ll be tough for them to rise one last time because Wigan look fit and fresh. Our pack has been in great form in recent weeks with better performances from the likes of Lee Mossop and Larne Patrick in particular.

Wigan’s caution needs to be avoiding their own mistakes because we lost at St Helens for that reason only. You can credit Saints defence but I find it hard to see Leeds withstanding that kind of pressure if we produce that again.

We just need to play a really fast pace and hopefully take our chances. It’s never easy against Leeds but I do wonder how much is left in their tank.

Our intensity and pressure against Huddersfield was about 10 per cent of what they endured.

If Leeds do win, though, we just have to tip our hat to a great achievement. Whatever happens, Jamie Peacock and Kevin Sinfield deserve applause for two great careers. Leeds will miss that pair next season more than they realise!

Bilko

Attitude – simple really when you think of it, but that was the difference last week as we made Huddersfield look ordinary. A few of the TV pundits were showing a little disrespect for our lads as they commented a lot about the Giants being off their game and how much the previous week had taken out of them. Rubbish! With the right attitude you could use that emotion and step up the performance against us and I am sure that was the game plan, but we wanted it more, fought harder and faster for the full 80 minutes – and it showed in the score line.

I simply cannot select a player to highlight this week in a game where everyone did their bit. Defensively we showed real desire and Huddersfield were getting more frustrated as the game went on. The prize for this now is of course the chance to star on the big stage. The atmosphere that awaits both teams is magical and we have experienced it several times already. But the pain and anguish of a defeat at the Theatre of Dreams does not bear thinking of, and last year’s painful memories still linger in my heart. I can only imagine the steely determination in the hearts of the squad to put a few things right and come home with the spoils.

Many people will no doubt be thinking about the ghost that Ben Flower needs to lay to rest, but I think he has done that already with some of the best form in Super League as he charges forward. I like Ben. His attitude in standing up for himself this year has been inspirational and a lesson to any youngsters coming into the game. I hope he has a great game and shares the just rewards.

If I am honest, I suppose I would have liked Saints to beat Leeds and set up a rematch from 2014, but you can’t rely on the red vee these days and so Leeds have a treble in their sights – with only a slight hurdle to their aspirations that is the proud Cherry and White. The Yorkshire side’s form of late has not been great but they keep finding a win when it matters most and we will need to continue where we left off and run them ragged.

I am excited, nervous and I suppose a little frightened of the thought of coming through such a tough year with nothing but a loser’s medal when we deserve so much more, but I believe that this squad can beat any other in the world with the belief that Shaun Wane has instilled. So I look forward to the game and wish the club the best of luck. Go get ‘em!

Darren Wrudd

For the third year running, Wigan safely made it through to the Grand Final, and my nerves are already sky high.

Compared to the other playoff semi-final, ours seemed like a walk in the park, and that could stand us in good stead come Saturday night. Leeds and St Helens played 80 minutes of brutal defence and was a game of very high intensity, and you could tell that both sides – but especially Leeds – looked to be drained at the end of the game. And hopefully that gives us a slight advantage at Old Trafford on Saturday, as we’ve seen in recent weeks that we are still playing at a high intensity until the last minute.

It was a very solid and professional performance by us against Huddersfield, and players who’ve received criticism over 2015 – such as Bowen and Mossop – put in great performances to get us back to Old Trafford to play the Rhinos.

2015 has been an indifferent one for us, with contrasting records at home and away, putting Wane under a bit of real pressure from the crowd for the first in his tenure. But the way he has turned this team, the youngest on average in the league I must add, to potential champions is something that deserves recognition.

But don’t get me wrong, Leeds are a champion team, and they are more than capable of turning it on and beating us easily. And our 7-0 wins against them in finals isn’t doing my nerves any good. That’s a record just shouting to be broken, isn’t it?

Leeds are waving goodbye to Peacock, Sinfield and Leuluai, but we’ve players leaving at the end of the year too.

And I hope we’re planning to spoil the party.

Sam Whyte

I have to start by saying all season I have said Wigan will win the Grand Final. The disappointment of last year’s defeat has driven them on. Yes granted we are only there with a tough game ahead, but I cannot see Wigan losing on this form. There were no Waney knockers on show in the South Stand on Thursday after Wigan destroyed the Giants. The enthusiasm shown by his team was typical of Wane as a player. They showed passion, desire and grit as they never looked like losing. Bowen was outstanding and once again showed he was and still is top class. He took everything Danny Brough threw at him as the Giants were totally outplayed by a clinical Wigan side. It was great to see Ben Flower score the first try and also back it up with another top performance. Perhaps now the Sky double act and press will move on from last year’s final. Bateman proved why he should be in the Dream Team as he was outstanding. Local lad young Gildart repaid the faith Waney has showed in him. The kid is growing in confidence with every game and deserves his chance. The guidance of captain O Loughlin was a treat to watch as he was involved in everything. Sam Powell showed why Waney stuck by him early in the season with a top-drawer performance. This Waney built team are still very young and the best has yet to come.

Joe Charnock