WIGAN didn’t win a trophy but 2015 can be remembered as “half a success”.
That’s the assessment of chairman Ian Lenagan as he reflected on a campaign of close scrapes on three fronts – the World Club Series, the race for the league leaders’ shield and, of course, the Super League Grand Final.
It was the year of the Rhinos, as the Yorkshire heavyweights claimed a rare treble of trophies.
They crashed out of the Challenge Cup in a surprise defeat to Hull KR (at home, in Leigh... figure that one out) and in the battle for the other two pieces of domestic silverware, they were twice second-best.
And only just.
“In terms of the year it was half a success,” said Lenagan.
“It was a case of nearly, but not quite, and it’s disappointing because of that.
“Not getting the league leaders shield and then losing in the Grand Final was a disappointment.
“But if you look at the grand scheme of things, and our aim which is to get to a final every year and win one every other year – if not more – we weren’t far off.
“We were clearly second, in a year which Leeds dominated.”
In the race for the league leaders shield – which was given greater kudos by a £100,000 prize money on offer - it went down to the wire. Warriors had one hand on the shield (metaphorically... the prize itself was on board a helicopter), having battled from behind to beat Castleford in the final game of the regular season.
Across the Pennines, Leeds were down at Huddersfield.
But in a moment of unscripted sporting drama, Leeds levelled the scores – with minutes to go – to set up a simple scenario. If the Rhinos scored again before the full-time whistle, they would finish the 30-round campaign in top-spot. If they didn’t, Wigan would.
Fans at the DW wrestled with an overcrowded network for updates from the John Smith’s Stadium.
Dom Manfredi was poised to score his first four-try haul of his career, but he was upstaged by another winger as, in the dying seconds, Ryan Hall chased Danny McGuire’s angled stab-through to settle the race.
“I thought it was a sick joke when someone told me,” said Wigan coach Shaun Wane afterwards.
For the neutrals, the theatrical finish and the unscripted twist convinced one viewer of Super League’s Box Office ability.
“Unbelievable scenes,” Tweeted England football star Joey Barton. “Some end to the league season. If there was ever a doubt about the best sport on TV...”
But Wigan craved silverware, not glorious defeats, and they had another chance to beat the Rhinos after both won their respective semi-finals to reach the Grand Final at a sold-out Old Trafford.
A thrilling finale was not without controversy – the video officials awarded Leeds a try despite an apparent knock-on in the build-up.
Matty Bowen sprinkled his star-dust on the occasion, in his final game, as Wigan were edged out 22-20.
Despite the result it was one of the highlights of Lenagan’s year.
“In the last three years we’ve won one Grand Final and lost two,” said Lenagan. “Which is not bad, but it’s not great. I want to win a trophy every year and on average, until then we had done that.
“But the Grand Final gave me a lot of pride. We have a very young team and against the supposedly best team of the last 10 years, which I don’t think is far off, we went very close.”
Another of his highlights from 2015 was another defeat – at the hands of Brisbane Broncos, in extra-time – following a thrilling game in the World Club Series, the expanded competition he helped engineer.
Wigan will again face Wayne Bennett’s men at the start of 2016.
Other flashpoints were the Magic Weekend victory over Leeds, an unbeaten Super League home record, the staging of a game in London – “I’m proud we’re attracting a new audience,” said Lenagan – and the inclusion of six players in the England squad, including young John Bateman and George Williams.
But in more general terms, the club owner enters the new year in an optimistic and content mood.
“Last season was not bad, but it wasn’t quite good enough,” he said.
“But there is a real feeling of pride and integrity and confidence at the club.
“That’s been coming for the last six years, since Michael Maguire and under Shaun Wane, and at this stage I think there is feeling that we are poised to do something, we are poised to win something.
“The retention of players has been pretty good, we’ve got John Bateman for a long time, Sam has come back, we have young players getting better and more mature... we’re in a very good place.”