Oliver Gildart on a fourth Grand Final, Joe Burgess' exit... and why Hull is a happy hunting ground
The classy centre may only be 24 but he is in his sixth season in the first-team – and this will be his fourth title-decider.
“It’s pretty amazing for me, it’s my sixth season and playing in my fourth Grand Final,” said Gildart, who also counts a World Club Challenge victory on his CV.
“It hit home when I was in the England camp with Chris Hill, a great player who’s had a great career, and he’s not got a (winner’s) ring.
“It makes you think of all the players – good, international players who’ve had great careers – who don’t get the chance. So it’s not something I take for granted at all.
“My first one, I can’t remember much about the game, I was in the headlights. I’d only made my debut in the Super-8s and then a few weeks later, I was thrown into the deep end against Leeds.
“I didn’t take it all in. I didn’t soak it up like I did the next two.
“This is my first Grand Final against Saints, so even though I’ve played in Grand Finals before it’ll feel different because it’s Saints. Plus where it’s at.”
With fans still not allowed into games, Super League decided to move the showcase event from Old Trafford to Hull’s KCOM Stadium.
The venue is, for many Wigan players, one of their favourite away grounds, while Gildart has his own special personal memory from the place.
“I made my England debut there two years ago, so I've got fond memories of playing there,” he said, nodding to his scintillating breakaway try in an 18-16 win against New Zealand. “It’s a good stadium and we’ve had some good results there.
“Don’t get me wrong, I’d rather play at Old Trafford and I feel sorry for the boys who are playing in their first final, because it’s definitely different.
“Even the semi-final, I’m speaking for me personally, even though I was buzzing to have won it didn’t feel like we had just won a semi-final. It’s definitely different with no fans but it’ll still be a big occasion, and it should be a great game.”
Wigan and Saints, who haven’t met in a final since 2014, finished first and second respectively on the Super League ladder.
And their derby meeting last month, which the Warriors won 18-6, set the tone for the intensity and quality many are expecting tonight.
Gildart believes pinning down winger Tommy Makinson, a former Hindley amateur, may have a big bearing on the outcome.
“They’ve got a lot of talented players but for me it’s Tommy,” he said. “His work rate is phenomenal, he’ll get them on the front foot with his carries.
“You don’t want to give him much space near your line because he can finish, but it’s the stuff at the other end where he can hurt teams. I enjoy playing against him, he brings the best out in me.”
Fittingly, it will be the final match for both Sean O’Loughlin and his long-time England team-mate James Graham, who returned to St Helens mid-season from a successful career in the NRL.
“I’m really happy for both of them, I got to know Jammer in the England squad and he’s a great bloke,” said Gildart.
“And Lockers, it’s been a privilege to have played just a small part of his career alongside and won trophies with him. It’s a shame only one of them can win but they’ve both had incredible careers.”
O’Loughlin won’t be the only Wigan player departing.
Salford have yet to confirm the signing of Joe Burgess, but he will leave Wigan after Friday’s match – breaking-up a prolific partnership with Gildart which stretches back to their school days at St Edmund Arrosmith High.
“It’s pretty sad, we’ve been getting emotional about it to be honest, knowing it’s our last game together,” added Gildart.
“I love playing alongside him and he’s found some good form which I’m pleased for him about.
“He’s not won a final here so hopefully we can do that. We’ve got a chance to win a trophy together and we’ve spoken about giving it our all, we’ll do everything we can to go out on a high.”
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