Super League Grand Final: Warrington 6 Wigan 12
Josh Charnley bowed out of rugby league with the winning try as Wigan battled back to claim a dramatic Super League title.
The Warriors trailed 6-2 at the break but, just as they did three years earlier against the same opposition, they roared back to take control with tries by Oliver Gildart and Charnley.
In a nerve-shredding finish, their spirited defensive effort repelled Warrington’s late attacks and they clung on to claim their first piece of silverware since 2013.
Captain Sean O’Loughlin collected the trophy after returning to the team for his first match since August 5.
The win - which earns them a place in the World Club Challenge against NRL champions Cronulla Sharks - was again down to their never-say-die attitude and a more composed second-half display.
Liam Farrell was a deserved man of the match for his efforts with and without the ball, and team-mates Dan Sarginson, George Williams, Matty Smith and Lewis Tierney all impressed.
Wigan, appearing in their fourth successive Grand Final, ensured Warrington’s hunt for their first Super League title goes on.
Shaun Wane, who had said victory would be the greatest achievement of his career, paid tribute to the Wolves afterwards for their part in a gripping, tense Grand Final.
In the last meeting between these sides, Wigan’s roaring comeback earned them a 35-28 win and, since then, had beaten Catalans and Hull FC to swell their confidence.
O’Loughlin replaced Jake Shorrocks on the bench, while - as expected - Ben Flower returned from a two-game ban to nudge Joe Bretherton out of the side.
After a slick pre-match entertainment bill, the sides walked out to fireworks and four walls of noise from the 70,202 fans packed into Old Trafford.
After a nervous start, a penalty marched Wigan down field and then another gave Smith the chance to put his side 2-0 up.
Moments later, Smith took advantage of the freeplay from Chris Hill’s error to kick a 40-20, but their pedestrian attack failed to cause any troubles. It set the tone for the rest of the first-half, with their best chance coming in the 17th minute when Farrell burst through and, when the ball was swept to the right, Anthony Gelling’s final pass to Charnley drifted forward.
Still, that right-edge - with John Bateman, too - offered a lot of strike but Wigan seemed to favour their left, where Williams and Tierney both had their moments.
Their errors gifted Warrington the opening try, as first Oliver Gildart’s attempted tip-on to Tierney went forward and then, on their line, Matty Smith was caught out of position in defence as Declan Patton slipped beyond him in the 22nd minute. He converted his own try to make it 6-2.
O’Loughlin replaced Isa, just as Sarginson broke through to offer hope of a try, and they appeared much more settled with their skipper on the pitch - though there was no breakthrough before half-time.
Chris Sandow came off the bench for Wire, his first match since the Challenge Cup Final, and his first touch - a towering kick - was spilled by Charnley. Wire nearly capitalised, too, only for centre Ryan Atkins to lose the ball under a congested, scrambling defence.
From that point, Wigan countered superbly. Farrell provided the breakthrough, charging through the line and holding his nerve to send Gildart arcing over to lock the scores 6-6.
Farrell produced a towering display, and his bone-jarring tackle moments later forced a mistake from Tom Lineham which paved the way for their second try. The ball was spread to the right, Sarginson angled a grubber through into the tight ingoal, and Charnley just had the poise to regather and ground the ball before tumbling over the deadball line.
Smith was unable to convert from the touchline but, with seven minutes to go, he booted a penalty to nudge his side into a 12-6 lead.
Warrington regained possession from a short kick-off, but their set ended with Matty Russell being forced into touch by a desperate three-man tackle which saved a try but injured Smith’s face in the process.
And another late surge was thwarted by Sarginson to ensure he departed for Gold Coast Titans with his first trophy.
Warrington: Ratchford; Lineham, Evans, Atkins, Russell; Gidley, Patton; Hill, Clark, Sims, Wilde, Hughes, Westerman. Subs: T King, G King, Sandow, Bailey.
Wigan: Sarginson; Charnley, Gelling, Gildart, Tierney; Williams, Smith; Nuuausala, Powell, Flower, Bateman, Farrell, Isa. Subs: Tautai, Sutton, Crosby, O’Loughlin.
Referee: Robert Hicks:
Man of the match: Liam Farrell