Wigan 30 Warrington 16

Wigan players celebrate
Wigan players celebrate

THIS script would be laughed out of Disney for being too ridiculous.

Beat Warrington? Win the double? Recover from 16-2 down to register a sporting comeback Ben Ainslie’s sailing team would marvel at?

Incredibly, Blake Green was knocked out but went on to produce a man-of-the-match display with only one eye, Sean O’Loughlin captained the side despite having spent the past month wearing a protective boot and – ludicrously – Pat Richards, the departing hero, scored the final try.

If you’re going to make history, you may as well do it in style.

“That was crazy,” said prop Dom Crosby. “I don’t know how you’d compare ’em, but that has to be one of the best sporting comebacks ever.”

The thousands at Old Trafford on Saturday night – and the many more watching on TV – were probably feeling the same, having watched Warriors mount the biggest Grand Final recovery and score 28 unanswered points, including a second-half whitewash.

In doing so, they achieved something no Wigan side has in the Super League era – and none in nearly two decades – in adding the title to their Challenge Cup success in the same season.

But there was one notable difference between this outfit and the last one to record a double: expectations.

Back in ’95, a full-time Cherry and Whites side loaded with Paul, Robinson, Offiah, Tuigamala, Edwards, Betts and Farrell – and more – trampled over all-comers to claim the Challenge Cup and championship.

This year, the Warriors would be lucky to scrape into the mix, we were told. They’d miss the stars who had left, we were told.

How wrong they were.

“People wrote us off, people said we wouldn’t win anything this year,” said Sam Tomkins, after his final game in the hometown shirt he has graced.

“But we knew what we could do and we always had the desire and the self-belief.”

Even when they fell 16-2 down and they were on the ropes, being guided around the park by a stand-off with only one eye.

Green’s bravery typified the widespread courage which helped produce a dramatic, highly-charged Grand Final – chants of “Off, off, off” rang out as the replay of Ben Westwood’s punch was replayed, but he escaped unpunished.

Green, who needed oxygen, recovered sufficiently to produce a 40-20 kick but Warrington’s defence held firm.

At the other end, Wigan’s line passed an early test, but three tries in a whirlwind eight minutes saw Wolves – without a title since 1955 – take a firm grip of the contest.

In tight in-goals, Lee Briers weighted a crossfield kick perfectly for winger Joel Monaghan to leap above Richards and touch down.

It got worse for Richards, who booted the re-start dead to put Warrington straight back on to the attack and Simon Grix carried O’Loughlin and Matty Smith over the line.

Wigan just couldn’t get their hands on the ball and when Westwood took Briers’ well-timed pass to burst over for a try it swelled the scoreline to 16-2.

Iain Thornley produced a stunning tackle to stop Chris Bridge inflicting further damage.

But a second lengthy injury stoppage, when Monaghan knocked himself unconscious attempting to tackle Richards and was carried off on a stretcher, gave Wigan time to regroup and they laid on a slick, multi-layered attack which ended when centre Darrell Goulding crossed, offering them life before half-time.

Warriors made a marked improvement in the second-half, particularly close to their opponents’ line, as Mike McIlorum shuttled over from short range.

Warrington lost a second player – Stefan Ratchford – to injury, coach Tony Smith venting his frustration that Harrison Hansen went unpunished for a potential cannonball tackle, and the disruption clearly hampered them.

Richards’ second goal cut the deficit to four points and – with the tension ratcheted up to an unbearable level – Warriors powered in front for the first time after 52 minutes.

Goulding stabbed the ball into Josh Charnley’s path, and he scorched over for his 43rd try of the year.

Charnley and Tomkins both went close, before Green put breathing space between the sides by jinking his way over for the match-clinching try.

The finishing touches were then applied by Richards, who took a floating pass from skipper Sean O’Loughlin and crossed – the winger showing a pause of reluctance before putting the ball down to score Wigan’s fifth try and adding the conversion to take his club points tally to 2,468.

Green was a deserving recipient of the Harry Sunderland award, becoming only the fourth Australian to do so, but McIlorum and O’Loughlin were also outstanding in a memorable team display.