Wigan 28 Hull FC 18

Anthony Gelling's thrilling late try secured Wigan's passage to their fourth-straight Grand Final at the end of a breathtaking, pulsating semi-final.

Friday, 30th September 2016, 10:24 pm
Updated Tuesday, 4th October 2016, 2:04 pm
Josh Charnley bowed out of the DW with victory

The Warriors looked on the ropes after Hull FC battled back from 14-0 down to take an 18-16 lead heading into the final few minutes.

But Sam Powell put the home side back in front and then - in a nerve-shredding, edge-of-the-seat finale - centre Gelling finally settled the contest when he angled over in the corner.

They now go on to meet Warrington at Old Trafford on October 8 in a repeat of the 2013 decider, which Wigan won to secure a stunning double.

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The Wolves had beaten St Helens 18-10 the night before to secure their place at the Theatre of Dreams.

Wigan’s progression keeps the dream alive that Josh Charnley, Dan Sarginson and, probably, Matty Smith can leave the club with silverware. They all played key roles in their last appearance at the DW as Wigan players.

Two Lewis Tierney tries had put Wigan ahead before John Bateman’s effort, on the stroke of half-time, sent them in at the break 14-0 ahead.

But the visitors turned a 14-0 deficit into an 18-16 lead as the game thundered towards a tense, often unbearable, climax - which ultimately fell Wigan’s way.

These sides had met four times already this year - winning two each - the last of them an 18-12 victory for the Warriors earlier this month.

That win was followed by impressive triumphs against Warrington and Catalans, while Hull had lurched to a scrappy win against Wakefield and a loss to the Wolves, leading many to conclude they were suffering from a post-Wembley hangover.

Hull FC were missing Gareth Ellis and Sika Manu, but Lee Radford would not have received any sympathy from Shaun Wane before kick-off.

He was without eight frontline players - seven through injury and Ben Flower due to suspension - meaning academy-graduates Jake Shorrocks and Joe Bretherton held onto their places in the squad.

With former Wigan and GB captain Shaun Edwards and Sir Bradley Wiggins watching on from the directors’ box, the home side showed their intent from the start.

The early errors were harshly policed by referee Robert Hicks, but an indication, perhaps, of the prize at stake.

Wigan soon settled down and enjoyed the most possession and better position, from which the ball was spread sharply to the left and Tierney squeezed over in the corner in the 8th minute. Smith’s conversion struggled to get off the ground.

They maintained their tempo and aggression, and after forcing a repeat set, a well-engineered move on the left edge picked apart the defence and Tierney again profited. Smith’s conversion swept across the face of the goal, but at 8-0 up inside a quarter-of-an-hour, they felt well in control.

That confidence didn’t just stem from the scoreboard, but from their blanket defence which rushed up to suffocate and disrupt FC’s attack. The few times they ventured down near Wigan’s line, they lacked organisation and any sense of threat or urgency.

The game stagnated for a spell as it turned into a blinking competition, with more blood, but George Williams helped bring it back to life with an arcing run and smart overhead inside pass to Liam Farrell.

That move broke down, but after Smith attempted a drop-goal in the last minute of the half - which was charged down by Danny Houghton - they regained possession and Bateman’s determined dart, and brave dive for the line, saw him score a try which was given the nod by the video referee. From in front of the sticks, Smith made no mistake.

Hull improved at the start of the second-half, scoring twice to reel the lead into a slender, nervous two points.

After earning three successive sets on their opponents’ line, eventually Wigan’s defence creaked. Danny Washbrook’s surging run put him in space, and the supporting Josh Bowden had the power to ground the ball. Moments later, their direct, route-one approach again worked for them, as Liam Watts powered over. With Marc Sneyd tagging on both conversions, it cut Wigan’s led to 14-12.

Smith nudged them four points ahead with a penalty in the 65th minute.

And then the game took a bizarre twist.

Hull’s willingness to kept the ball alive, offloading at will, finished with a grubber into the corner which Tierney couldn’t clean up, Steve Michaels pounced, and Oliver Gildart picked up the ball and sprinted 100m to the line.

Hicks sent the decision up to the big screen, who went back to the scramble in Wigan’s in-goal and - after a ludicrous amount of time - video referee Ben Thaler awarded Michaels the try. Sneyd’s conversion put the visitors in front for the first time.

That try deflated Wigan and lifted the Black and Whites, who pushed for a match-clinching score. But Wane’s men dug deep and retook the lead in dramatic scenes, WIllie Isa flinging a wild pass which fell to Powell, and the hooker burrowed over to make it 22-18.

The tension was unbearable at times, as Hull attacked, and attacked. Wigan defended superbly, countered, and after Smith’s measured stab-through had forced a repeat set, the towering Anthony Gelling swept over to finally, finally, allow fans to relax.

Next stop, Old Trafford.

Wigan: Sarginson; Charnley, Gelling, Gildart, Tierney; Williams, Smith; Crosby, Powell, Nuuausala, Bateman, Farrell, Isa. Subs: Tautai, Sutton, Shorrocks, Bretherton.

Catalans: Shaul; Michaels, Fonua, Yeaman, Talanoa; Tuimavave, Sneyd; Taylor, Houghton, Watts, Pritchards, Minichiello, Washbrook. Subs: Green, Bowden, Thompson, Abdull.

Referee: Robert Hicks

Half-time: 14-0


Starman: Dan Sarginson