Mike Gregory is a tribute to the restorative powers of reaching a Super League Grand Final. The Wigan caretaker-coach, surely soon to be confirmed in the permanent role, was ill all week, but his side provided the perfect medicine as they carved out a 23-22 victory over Leeds in the final eliminator.
"I've had a bug all week, but it's all the better for that win. It was the best possible tonic," he said. Wigan have yet to taste defeat in their 11 games under Gregory and his assistant, Denis Betts, and now go into the showdown against Bradford at Old Trafford knowing that they can win matches without necessarily playing their best.
Gregory studied the tapes of the Leeds match yesterday and came to the conclusion that his men had been outplayed in some areas - including the play-the-ball - but had won because they hung in doggedly and displayed clinical finishing. "Our patience and composure came to the fore and we've got strike power from all over the field," he said.
Nobody illustrated that better than Brian Carney, the Irish winger who twice burst explosively out of his own territory to score breathtaking tries. If there were any doubts that Carney has what it takes to play for Great Britain against Australia next month, they were answered on Friday.
For some, it was a tougher night. Luke Robinson had experienced little but success so far in his role as a replacement for Adrian Lam, ruled out for the rest of the season with a knee injury. On Friday, he was full of self-reproach after being outplayed by Leeds' equally exciting young scrum-half, Rob Burrow. "Luke will be bigger and stronger for that," insisted Gregory. "He knew straight away what had gone wrong, although on a couple of occasions it was the fault of his runners that passes went to ground."
Gregory paid tribute to the contribution Leeds made to a memorable night. "I thought they were excellent and if they had got the result I couldn't have argued," he said, also sparing a thought for his opposite number, Daryl Powell, who is standing down for the next two seasons to move into a newly-created role as director of rugby. "He's going on a sabbatical, studying organisations and coaching methods, and he'll come back a better peerson and a better coach," he said. "And it's not too bad when you've got a four-year contract."
That last observation comes with a particular force from a coach who has no contract. The Wigan chairman, Maurice Lindsay, has said that there will be no announcement until after the Grand Final, but there is every chance now that the time will be right to seal a two-year deal before the big match.
Gregory would certainly prefer it. "I'm sure things can now move in the right direction," he said. "It might give extra impetus if we went into the Grand Final knowing where we are going and what our long-term plans are."
It could be of crucial importance that Wigan go to Old Trafford next Saturday in exactly the right state of mind. They have got there the hard way and must now face a Bradford side who have been the most consistent in the competition and who will be well rested.
Everything points to a fierce confrontation up front, with Bradford trying to bull-doze their opposition. "Bradford will play their normal, more direct game," Gregory said. "I don't think it will be a game of chess; more a matter of them trying physically to run over you."Reuse content