Wigan Warriors 4 St Helens 8: Five things we learned from the Grand Final
Five things we learned from Wigan's agonising 8-4 Grand Final defeat against St Helens...
1. The craziest of seasons, the craziest of endings.
Wigan, who launched the campaign in January, had their Grand Final hopes snatched away with the final play after the hooter had sounded.
What was amazing for Saints and astonishing for the neutrals was torturous for Wigan, as squeezed past Bevan French to ground a bobbling ball.
It was 4-4 until then and the game seemed to be heading for golden point, until Shevington teenager Welsby pounced (Saints elected not to kick the conversion).
It was hard not to feel sorry for French, the best player in Super League this year who was otherwise excellent throughout.
In reflection, the final play summed up how it was...
2. A game of inches. Even millimetres.
As Wigan fans were left considering a string of 'what if' scenarios that would have changed the complex of the game; had Welsby been offside or over the deadball line, had Zeb Taia been onside for a try ruled out, had Zak Hardaker been on target with his goal strikes, had Makinson not hit the crossbar.
Ultimately, though, the game fell Saints' way and Wigan could take some comfort from knowing they had played their part in a bruising, absorbing Grand Final.
3. Saints coach Kristian Woolf admits he was surprised Wigan elected to kick at goal when they were awarded a penalty - with the score locked 4-4 with less than two minutes to go - from 45m out.
He thought the Warriors would have punted to touch, eaten up the clock and opted for a drop goal.
Adrian Lam, though, still felt it was the right choice; but says they let themselves down by not showing more urgency in chasing Hardaker's penalty attempt (which fell short) and pinning Saints down close to their line.
Had they done that, they may not have been in the position for Makinson to strike his drop goal attempt which led to the surreal finish.
4. And so Wigan finish the season with the League Leaders Shield and as beaten Grand Finalists.
They have blooded more young players, several others have grown in stature and their plans for 2021 already look exciting. Adrian Lam expects to be in charge then, hoping to secure his future within days.
But there will be no Joe Burgess, who leaves for Salford having won a World Club Challenge - in which he scored a hat-trick - but never a final with his hometown club. Injured Ben Flower (Leigh) and fringe forward Jack Wells (Salford) will also move on, as is strength coach Paul Johnson.
And then, of course, there is...
5. Sean O'Loughlin. Who started his career with a narrow loss and finished it 18 years later with a narrow loss. In between, he didn't do bad for himself!
It was a classy gesture from St Helens to pause their celebrations and give the retiring ex-England skipper a guard of honour as he left the pitch for the final time as a player.
A role on the coaching staff beckons for O'Loughlin, who at 38 became the oldest player to feature in a Super League Grand Final.
Finally, congratulations to St Helens on the win and retiring James Graham and Taia on great careers.
And well done to every club, coach, official and player for going above and beyond to complete the season in such testing times. A Grand Final in Hull with no fans felt very different, but Super League and Sky Sports did a sterling job ensuring it still felt special.
Let's hope for more normal circumstances in 2021.
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