Five things we learned from Wigan’s 18-14 defeat by Hull FC in the Challenge Cup final...
1. What a game. What a finish!
It will be no comfort to the Wigan players, but they played their part in an absorbing contest which went right down to the wire.
The bookmakers were struggling to call a favourite beforehand, and both sides scored three tries - Hull winning on account of two extra conversions.
It meant they defended the trophy they had won last year, denied Wigan a record-extending 20th triumph, and sent the Warriors to their first Challenge Cup Final defeat since 2004 - and their first loss at Wembley since ‘98.
On the balance of play, many say the best team won. And yet...
2. Tony Clubb had a try ruled out by the video referee - and even FC coach Lee Radford admitted he thought it should have been given.
The prop appeared to have the ball stripped as he rolled over, and then grounded the loose ball - but video referee James Child ruled a knock-on.
“I don’t understand how they can rule it like that,” said Shaun Wane.
“But I definitely don’t want to make an excuse and that wasn’t the reason why we lost.”
Wigan’s players were gracious in defeat, and while they thought the try should have been awarded, to a man they echoed Wane’s sentiment.
“We won’t dwell on because there were other periods we could have been better,” said Sam Tomkins. Liam Farrell added: “The ref has as tough a job as us.”
The call to rule out Joe Burgess’ late, levelling try was the right call - George Williams’ tip-on pass went forward, denying Wigan - and the spectacle - a grand-stand finish.
3. The period after half-time was crucial.
Hull had edged an entertaining, end-to-end opening half 12-10, but dominated from the restart and established an eight-point cushion, and left Wigan with too much ground to make up.
As good as Hull were in this period, Wigan didn’t help themselves - there was plenty of effort but far too many errors, and little conviction in attack. They sold themselves short.
There are certainly areas to improve before their next game - a vital Super League clash at St Helens on Friday.
4. Marc Sneyd’s two extra goals won it - cue the all-too-familiar calls from some quarters for Shaun Wane to ‘sign a goal-kicker’.
But Sneyd’s tactical kicking proved the difference.
Wigan have been trying to cut the number of tries they concede from kicks (in both their previous matches, it was the only way they were broken) and Sneyd’s pinpoint boot laid on first-half tries for Fetuli Talanoa and man-mountain Mahe Fonua.
Sneyd also booted a marvellous 40-20 at a crucial stage; Wigan’s kicking, save for Thomas Leuluai’s punt for John Bateman’s opening try, paled in comparison. Sneyd deservedly won the Lance Todd Trophy for a second successive year.
5. The crowd of 68,525 was officially the lowest at the new Wembley - but that is misleading.
For the past 10 years, the ring of Club Wembley seats have been counted on the attendance because the tickets had been ‘sold’ - even though many of the seats were vacant during the game. It’s not that the crowd was down on Saturday, as much as that was the first ‘true’ attendance since the showcase game returned to its spiritual home.
And on the crowd, officials may have statistics which rubbish this view - but there appeared fewer ‘neutral’ shirts at Wembley. Has the Magic Weekend taken over as the place to go for an annual rugby league carnival?